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D-426 approves 2-year contract with teachers

KIRKLAND – Negotiations between the Hiawatha School District 426 Board and the teachers union ended amicably Monday night when the school board approved a two-year contract.

Superintendent Sarah Willey said the Hiawatha Classroom Teachers’ Association signed off on a contract Friday that would give teachers a one-time 1.67 percent step-based pay increase in January 2014.

“We averted a strike, and that could have been very detrimental to the education of our students,” Willey said. “It could have delayed the end of the school year. It could have upset sports activities and graduation. ... Everybody feels it’s a reasonable compromise.”

The teachers union previously declared negotiations to be at an impasse and had filed an intent-to-strike notice, Willey said. She added that Monday’s night vote nullified any strike notices, mediation, and other forms filed with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.

The first year of the contract freezes step and lane-based pay increases, while a delayed step-based pay increase occurs in the contract’s second year. Step-based pay increases are based on a teacher’s year of experience, while a lane-based pay increase is based on a teacher’s education.

Willey said the union also agreed to assume 100 percent of the liability of paying for any increases to their pensions in the first year of the contract. In the second year, that liability drops to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the district will pay up to 8 percent of a teacher’s medical insurance, which would amount to $657 a month for each employee.

This is the second year in which contract negotiations between the union and the school board stretched in the school year. In 2011, an agreement wasn’t reached until November.

Board Vice President Henry Burwerger, who was involved in the negotiating process, said there are a lot of unknowns this year.

“The state – we don’t know what they’re going to do,” Burwerger said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with housing development and stuff like that. Kirkland is kind of hurting like most towns. There’s a bunch of unknowns, and we didn’t want to go jumping in on something that could severely handicap us later on.”

Board President Jack Novelli said he does not think there will be any major problems in contract negotiations two years from now.

“We’ll talk, and then we’ll solve our problems,” Novelli said.

The teachers union previously demanded a 2.5 percent raise for its members, which included a $500 base salary increase. The board had initially rejected any step-based pay increases, and only offered to pay all teachers an extra $650 this year.

The union had proposed using the savings of teachers who retired at the end of 2012 school year to fund the 2.5 percent pay increase, but Willey said the district had already factored those savings into its budget.

Even with those savings, the district is operating with a projected deficit of more than $789,000 for this school year.

“It really didn’t put us in any better cash position to negotiate at all,” Willey said. “It saved us money, but it just made the deficit a little less.”

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