KEA votes not to reopen contract negotiations
by Susan O’Neill
KANELANDâ€”The Kaneland Educators Association (KEA) announced on Monday its decision not to reopen negotiations with the Kaneland administration regarding teachers’ salaries.
KEA Chief Negotiator and high school social science teacher Lynn McHenry said the teachers not only view the contract that currently exists between them and the district as a validation of the work that they do, but that it also sets standards by which Kaneland will attract and retain the best teachers.
â€œFor a first-year teacher, Kaneland’s salary schedule continues to rank eighth out of the nine surrounding districts,â€ McHenry said.
McHenry said that although the surrounding districts are suffering similar budget issues for the next school year, none of them has formally asked their teachers’ associations to renegotiate their contract.
Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Jeff Schuler said that it would be misleading to focus on the salaries of first-year teachers in evaluating the competitiveness of Kaneland’s salaries. He said that although the ranges for first-year teachers are below those of the surrounding districts, once Kaneland teachers reach the middle ranges of the salary structure, their salaries are actually higher than those of the surrounding communities.
KEA President Linda Zulkowski, also a Response to Intervention facilitator at Kaneland Blackberry Elementary School, explained the reasoning behind the teachers’ decision not to re-open the contract.
â€œKaneland teachers too, are victims of this poor economy,â€ she said. â€œWe’re grateful to have jobs that we love. But a largely non-tenured staff earning comparatively low wages has also experienced lay-offs in their families and mounting bills to pay.â€
According to Kaneland Superintendent Charlie McCormick, approximately two-thirds of the 343 Kaneland teachers are tenured.
Schuler said that approximately 50 teachers make less than $40,000, while more than two-thirds of teachers’ salaries between $41,000 and $85,000 per year.
Zulkowski said that a contract is something that should be honored, and it is not fair for one party to expect another to renegotiate it.
â€œOur contract is a mutual promise and commitment in both good times and lean,â€ Zulkowski said. â€œIt’s no fairer for the district to ask for an open contract in lean times than it is for employees to demand an open contract in times of surplus.â€
The KEA negotiated a three-year contract with the Kaneland School District in October 2008. The contract included salary increases for Kaneland teachers over a period of three years: 4.86 percent for last year, 6.21 percent for this year, and 5.6 percent for fiscal year 2010-11. The School Board voted 4-3 to approve the contract, under threat of a teacher’s strike. The KEA filed an intent to strike prior to the board’s vote.
At the time, several board members said that it was a generous contract in uncertain times.
â€œIt has not positioned the district favorably three years down the line,â€ board member Diane Piazza said then.
The Kaneland School District, faced with a $2.6 million projected deficit in next year’s budget, asked Kaneland teachers in November to renegotiate the contract, which would have meant re-looking at the 5.6 percent increase set for next year.
According to Zulkowski, 75 percent of the 350-person membership voted against opening up the contract.
â€œIt was a clear message,â€ she said. â€œThe end result is a decision that says the long-term negative impact of restructuring this salary schedule outweighs the short-term benefit of alleviating the struggle of balancing next year’s budget.â€
Zulkowski said the teachers supported the cuts that the administration initially proposed to the board in January. She said the administration’s priority was to propose cuts to the budget that would least impact the students and that the original proposal preserves the core curriculum.
â€œWith the alternatives presented tonight, we’re now faced with pitting one part of the system that directly affects students (increase class size) with another aspect of the system that directly affects students (after school programs, high school clubs and activities, etc).â€
The Kaneland District Administration issued a press release on Monday regarding the KEA’s vote.
â€œEspecially in the context of these unprecedented times and financial challenges our community is facing, the Kaneland Board of Education and administration are disappointed that the KEA has decided neither to engage in any conversation about the needs behind the boardâ€™s request nor to explore any options or shared interests that might be considered. The board and administration will move forward with the $2.6 million budget reduction process.â€