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District 427, teachers make progress toward deal

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 3:07 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, July 26, 2013 11:59 p.m. CST

SYCAMORE — Negotiations for a new contract between Sycamore School District 427 and its teachers union are under way and could result in a deal in the coming weeks.

Carol Meeks, president of the Sycamore Education Association, said the teachers' union and the school district hope to finalize the contract by the first day of school beginning of the district's school year, which is Aug. 19. The first day of student attendance is Aug. 21.

The teachers' association has roughly 300 members, she said. The district employs about 574 people who work either full or part-time. 

Negotiations have been going well thus far. Meeks, who is a teacher at North Elementary School, said the teachers' association continues to have a good relationship with the school district. The work the union does with the school board is always positive, she said. 

"Both sides are working honestly and openly," Meeks said. 

Meeks said she wasn't part of the negotiation team during the last contract negotiation, which resulted in a three-year contract that lasted through 2012-13 school year. She was unable to comment further on the current negotiations or who is on the negotiation team for this year's contract, which has yet to be ratified. 

Kathy Countryman, the district's superintendent, said she could not comment on the negotiations. She was unavailable to speak more on the negotiations Friday. Contract negotiations typically are conducted behind closed doors, although District 427 school board members would have to approve any agreement with a public vote.

In the district's previous contract with its teachers, steps in the pay scale increased by 2 percent in the second year, and by 3.5 percent the following year. 

Teachers receive larger raises than the increase in the pay scale, though. Each added year they spend with the district, they also receive a "step" increase for gaining another year of seniority.

So a new teacher with a bachelor's degree received a 5.5 percent raise from the first to the second year of the contract. From the second to the third year, the same teacher received a 7.1 percent raise.

Starting salary for entry-level teachers grew from $37,547 in their first year of the previous contract to $39,628 last year, including a district-paid 10.3 percent contribution to the Teachers Retirement System.

Budget deficits have been a struggle for public schools around the state, including in Sycamore, in part because of decreased state funding, declining property values and a major slowdown in the housing market.

Last school year, District 427 had a $63 million budget that included a $2.6 million budget deficit in its operating fund.

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