SYCAMORE – Sycamore School District 427 apparently violated the Open Meetings Act by not informing the Daily Chronicle of a special board meeting for approving a new labor agreement with its teachers union.
Board members approved a new 4-year pact with the district’s approximately 300 teachers at a 30-minute meeting that started at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. The contract freezes teacher salaries for the coming school year, but offers raises of 1.5 percent and 3 percent to the base salary schedule in years three and four, respectively, district officials have said. Teachers would receive a seniority based “step increase” in year two of the deal.
The school district has yet to provide a copy of the contract to the newspaper.
The Open Meetings Act requires pubic bodies to notify news organizations of all special meetings at least 48 hours in advance by using the same communication method as was used to notify board members of the meeting, so long as the news organization requests such notice each year. The Daily Chronicle sent an annual request for notice to the district in January.
All school board members have been trained in the Open Meetings Act, according to a document posted on the district’s website.
“Any action taken at a meeting not in compliance with the Open Meetings Act is subject to being set aside,” said Don Craven, attorney for the Illinois Press Association.
District leaders emailed school board members when they posted the meeting agenda to the district website, but they did not notify the Daily Chronicle. Superintendent Kathy Countryman acknowledged receiving the Daily Chronicle’s annual request in January and said the omission this week was unintentional.
“Due to an inadvertent oversight, we regret that we neglected to notify the Chronicle as we normally do via email,” Countryman said. “We’ve spoken with the Chronicle to discuss avenues to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
During the meeting at the district administration offices, 245 W. Exchange St. in Sycamore, school board members voted, 5-0, to approve a contract between the district and the Sycamore Education Association. Board President Jim Dombek and Vice President Steve Nelson abstained from the vote because their wives are teachers.
School board member Donald Clayberg said board members were surprised there was no reporter at the meeting and encouraged staff to issue a news release in conjunction with union leadership. The news release was sent late Thursday afternoon.
“We were kind of surprised [the Chronicle wasn’t] there,” Clayberg said. “It was going to be a real short meeting.”
Countryman said a draft of the contract, which takes effect Friday, was not available because it was still being compiled in a printable format. The final product eventually will be put on the district’s website, www.syc427.org, she said.
During contract negotiations, both district and teacher representatives discussed implementing student achievement in the teacher evaluation process, which will be required by state law in the 2016-2017 school year, Countryman said. They also discussed planning time for teachers and opportunities for teachers to take leadership roles, such as department chairs.
“We went through every page of the contract to make sure it mirrored what we are doing and what we wanted to do,” Countryman said.