Before the tentative agreement was reached, an estimated 200 teachers participated in the rally on Aug. 20. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

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School District 65 and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) reached a tentative agreement at 4 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 27, after a 16-hour negotiating session. Negotiations extended over six months, and a federal mediator facilitated the last five sessions that took place in August.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said in a prepared statement, “I believe we have negotiated a tentative agreement with the District Educators’ Council that is fair to our teachers, fair to our community, and fair to our students.” 

School Board President, Katie Bailey said, “We look forward to a successful start to our school year. Having a tentative agreement with our teachers will certainly help us meet that goal. Our teachers can confidently start school this week, and our students can begin the school year as planned on Tuesday, September 4.” 

DEC President Jean Luft said, “DEC is pleased that the new agreement improves several areas of the District 65 learning and working environment and also provides avenues for making future improvements in additional areas.”

In a prepared statement, DEC said, “DEC is appreciative of the time, energy and effort put forth from both the DEC and the School Board’s bargaining teams. DEC is also grateful for the support of a highly skilled federal mediator, who facilitated the final agreement. The teachers wish to thank the parents and community members, who expressed support during the many months of negotiations. Those expressions of support have deeply touched us.

“The District 65 teachers are eager to begin a successful school year with the students on September 4th. The teachers consider it an honor to work in a community that values and respects high quality education for all children.”

The details of the agreement will be shared with the teachers today, Aug. 30, and there will be a secret ballot vote on the tentative agreement the following week. After the agreement is ratified by the union membership, it will be presented to the full School Board for approval.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released to the public.

The Sticking Points

In the last month, it appeared the sticking points centered around changes that would affect scheduling, fine arts, physical education and teachers’ professional planning time.

 As part of its deficit reduction strategies, District 65 administrators plan to reduce the number of fine arts teachers by 2.5 teachers and the number of physical education teachers by 2.5 teachers. The remaining fine arts teachers and physical education teachers would be expected to teach 1,400 minutes per week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This would bring them more into line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers, say administrators.

DEC said these changes would add a seventh period per day for art, music and physical education teachers, that new schedules will require some of these teachers to travel between school buildings on several days per week, that the changes will result in cutting 40 minutes a week of fine arts instruction for most students in the fourth- and fifth-grades, and that the cuts will result in inconsistent scheduling of classes.

Many parents have also protested the reduction in the number of fine arts teachers, saying that research shows that instruction in the fine arts helps engage students, improves their cognitive thinking skills and improves test scores.

During discussions on the budget earlier this year, Dr. Murphy said the reduction in fine arts and physical education teachers was necessary to reduce the projected operating deficits and to help balance the budgets for the next three years. 

DEC also said some of the proposed changes will cut the amount of professional planning time for fourth- and fifth-grade teachers and not increase the planning time for K-3 teachers, which DEC says is currently inadequate. DEC also objected to changes it said would cut 20 minutes a day from middle school teachers’ collaboration time.

In the past few years, many teachers have told Board members that common planning time is critical to enable general education teachers and special education teachers to plan how they will co-teach in inclusion classrooms. In addition, research on effective professional development highlights the importance of providing collaborative and collegial learning environments.

At the School Board meeting on Aug. 20, Ms. Bailey responded to some of the issues raised by DEC saying, “We understand the importance of planning time. We have surveyed several other districts and found that the planning time we provide our teachers is more than competitive with what most other districts offer.”

Ms. Bailey added, “We have not made a single bargaining proposal that would reduce the planning time required under our current contract. We did announce some changes at the end of our last school year that were allowed under our current contract. For our K-5 teachers, we have proposed that their work day be the same as it is for our middle school teacher work day. That would provide increased planning time for them without adding classroom contact time. We also have discussed a concept that would further increase K-5 teacher planning time as well as improve the delivery of K-5 fine arts programming.”

At this time, it is unclear how these issues were resolved in the tentative agreement.

On Aug. 20, DEC held a rally before the School BoardIs meeting to demonstrate teacherss support for DEC s position in the negotiating sessions. An estimated 200 teachers marched from the Joseph E. Hill administration building north on McDaniel, east on Church Street to Evanston Township High School and then back. Earlier on May 21, members of DEC staged a rally at the Hill administration building, and on May 24, members of DEC authorized DECss leadership to take steps necessary for a potential strike.

Tentative Budget for 2012-13 Shows a Surplus

On Aug. 20 the School Board approved a tentative budget for the 2012-13 school year that incorporates deficit reduction strategies that were discussed at many meetings by the School Board and the Board’s Finance Committee. District administrators say the strategies reduce operating expenses by about $4.4 million by, among other things, eliminating 38 staff positions (including administrators, teachers, teacher aides, instructional coaches, custodians and other staff), replacing about 51 persons who are retiring with persons at lower salary levels, and making cuts in purchased services and supplies.

The tentative budget shows a surplus of $941,983 for the 2012-13 school year. The latest financial projections show operating surpluses of $1.5 million in 2013-14, $493,305 in 2014-15 and then deficits of $2.1 million for 2015-16 and $3.2 million for 2016-17.

Timing of the Votes

Members of DEC are scheduled to vote on the tentative agreement on Friday, Sept. 7. Assuming the agreement is ratified by members of DEC, School Board members will vote on the agreement at their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 10.