Tag Archives: Kaneland Educators Association

Community gets say on proposed budget cuts

by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—Teachers, parents and community members filled the Harter Middle School cafeteria on Monday night as the administration laid out alternatives to previously proposed budget cuts and the KEA announced it would not come back to the bargaining table.

Some parents, such as Molly Cohrs, a 1987 Kaneland graduate, complimented the quality of the Kaneland teachers and lamented the proposed elimination of sports, clubs and other activities.

“There’s more to education than sitting in a classroom,” she said. “There’s a boat-load to be learned by being a part of something; to learn to work as a team and to contribute to something larger than themselves,” she said.

Others, such as Teresa Witt, suggested that more parents could find opportunities to volunteer to mitigate some of the proposed cuts, such as during the after-school peer tutoring sessions or helping out with the Response to Intervention program by listening to students who need additional reading time.

Sixth-grade teacher Barb Landis said she hoped that the law had changed, to leave open the possibility of using the $1.1 million currently set aside for a storage facility at Harter Middle School for some of the programs on the proposed chopping block. Her hopes were dashed, however, as assistant superintendent for business Julie-Ann Fuchs told her that the law still required that capital funding be kept separate from operational monies.

The entire Chess Club attended the meeting, advocating for the activity they and sponsor Ken Dentino consider a team. According to Dentino, the Chess Club, active for the past 11 years, has provided a place for hundreds of students who have gone on to become PhDs, scientists, lawyers, musicians, teachers, actuaries, college administrators and information technology professionals.

“I would like to think that this team had much to do with that success and therefore helped in fulfilling our mission statement,” he said. “Chess has been proven to aid in problem-solving, critical thinking and forward planning.”

Witt said she was disappointed by what she perceived to be a defensive and combative tone of the Kaneland Education Association (KEA) announcement that it would not renegotiate its salary agreement. A veteran of a number of referendum drives, Witt said she worried about a backlash from the community when the time for another referendum came around again.

The cuts could get worse, if the state of Illinois does not pay the district all of the $2 million that it currently owes to Kaneland. His prediction was that nothing would happen until after November, because he did not believe there was a way for the state to pass its budget without a tax increase.

“If a politician tells you that, they’re blowing smoke,” said Superintendent Charlie McCormick.

Sheila Albano said she is angry with the State of Illinois, and she was more interested in determining how to fix the situation, rather than being upset with the administration or the teachers. She wanted to know how much was needed to save certain programs, and what she and other parents could do to fix it.

“I share your concern,” Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Jeff Schuler told the crowd. “We’re not talking about things we want, but we’ve got the reality of the budget.”

While some parents said they would willingly pay higher fees to prevent some of the sports and other activities from being eliminated, parent Leanndra Bowen gave a word of caution.

She said that although there were a number of families who could afford the additional fees, there were many families who could not. She said she wanted to make sure the board considers that there are plenty of families, especially those with multiple children, whose children would not be able to participate in some activities if the fees were significantly increased.

“For public schools, it’s unfair for families who can’t afford it,” she said.

Middle school principal Rick Burchell explained that with the switch from competitive to intramural sports at the middle school level, the district could offer more activities to more students for about 25 percent of the cost.

Using basketball as an example, he said the middle school currently has 42 basketball players. With an intramural program, he said that twice as many students could participate.

Other possibilities include instituting an intramural tennis team and a self-defense class taught by a volunteer community member, and utilizing the fitness room more fully.

“We’re trying to give the kids as many opportunities as we can, just to do it more effectively,” he said.

School officials said they want to obtain additional feedback from the community as the district attempts to make these hard decisions, and they encouraged residents to visit the kaneland.org website to provide their comments and questions.

The next School Board meetings will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and Monday, Feb. 22, prior to the final decisions that will be made at the Monday, March 8, meeting.

Proposed cuts
According to the Kaneland School District administration, the elimination of each teaching position represents an average savings of $50,000

District
• Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources
• Two teachers for gifted program

Elementary schools
• Two core teaching positions
• Fifth grade band program (represents a savings of $90,000)
• Three part-time attendance secretaries
• Four full-time learning resource center secretaries

Middle school

• Two PE teachers
• One exploratory teacher (art, music, industrial technology)
• LRC secretary
• Competitive sports (replace with intramural sports;
represents a savings of $135,000)*
*According to administration, twice as many students would have the
opportunity to participate as currently do in competitive sports

High School
• One PE teacher
• One Family Consumer Science teacher
• 1.6 Full-time equivalents in driver’s education, PE, etc.
• One Health Assistant
• Two Response to Intervention Plan teachers

High School Clubs
represents $60,000 in savings
Name Participants
Color Guard (winter) 9
Book/Film 6
Global Cultures 16
Model UN 12
Speech 0
Writer’s Block 7
This is no act (theatre) 15
WYSE (science) 7
Chess 15
Kolla Voice (Boy’s Choir) 15
Intramural sports 30

High School Competitive sports
reduction of a coach or sponsor in the following programs;
represents $60,000 in savings*
• Frosh Girls Basketball
• Girls Soccer
• Frosh Baseball
• Frosh Boys Basketball
• Asst Boys Soccer
• Football
• Volleyball
• Boys Track
• Girls Track
• Two cheerleading coaches
• One Pom Pons sponsor
*According to administration, the impact of this reduction would
be the elimination of a B level team in certain sports,
giving 20-30 fewer students in total the opportunity to take part

Transportation

represents savings of $200,000
• Elimination of after-practice routes for grades 6-12

Alternate cost reduction possibilities
• Freeze wages for administrative staff: $48,000
• Eliminate teaching positions: $50,000 per position
• Eliminate administration staff: $75,000 per position
• Freeze wages for support staff: $127,000

Teacher’s union says ‘No’

KEA votes not to reopen contract negotiations
by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—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.

“For a first-year teacher, Kaneland’s salary schedule continues to rank eighth out of the nine surrounding districts,” 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.

“Kaneland teachers too, are victims of this poor economy,” she said. “We’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.”

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.

“Our contract is a mutual promise and commitment in both good times and lean,” Zulkowski said. “It’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.”

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.

“It has not positioned the district favorably three years down the line,” 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.

“It was a clear message,” she said. “The 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.”

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.

“With 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).”

The Kaneland District Administration issued a press release on Monday regarding the KEA’s vote.

“Especially 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 board’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.”

Citizens voice concerns over cuts

by Susan O’Neill
Kaneland—There’s no question about it—Kaneland’s proposed cuts are not making anyone happy.

Kaneland’s Citizens Advisory Committee members, mostly parents, told the administration their concerns during a meeting held at the high school last Thursday. Some, like Mark Weintraub and Monica Kellen, voiced strong opposition to the idea of larger classroom sizes.

Kellen, whose child will soon start kindergarten, said she is opposed to classrooms with 30 students in them, which would be the result of cutting an additional one to two teachers at the elementary school level.

“I can’t imagine what kind of learning environment that would be,” she said.

Some members, such as Patrick Crimmins and Weintraub, said they were opposed to cutting gifted teachers and folding the gifted program into the response to intervention program.

Other members focused on the proposed cuts to the various activities and clubs. Some, such as George Silfugarian, suggested that, rather than cut some of the sports activities, parents be asked to pay higher fees.

He said that in looking at other options for his children in the community, he found fees in other leagues of about $350. With Kaneland’s fees currently at $100, his suggestion was to raise them to $300.

“I’d just as soon have them play at Kaneland,” he said.

Suzanne Fahnestock told the administrative panel that she gets upset when she looks at activities, such as band for the fifth graders or the outdoor education trips to Loredo Taft, being cut.

She said that before the children have to miss out on these and other valuable opportunities in the areas of fine arts, music and sports, she would like to see salary cuts and more position cuts looked at more seriously.

“At the last referendum, I encouraged others to vote yes,” she said. “My sons are not going to benefit from the referendum I voted for.”

Some individuals asked if more administrative positions could be cut instead. Several mentioned salary freezes as a way out. Although the teachers’ salaries are part of a negotiated contract, freezing the wages of non-union employees would realize a savings of $175,000.

Silfugarian said that wage freezes of the non-union employees could serve to put pressure on the teachers to offer to do the same.

“Many of our taxpayers are in that same position,” he said, referring to district residents who have either experienced pay cuts or who have lost their jobs altogether.

In the meantime, the Kaneland Educators Association has said that the membership will take a vote on Friday on whether or not to re-negotiate the salary increases for next year (see related story).

Silfugarian and others suggested that the schools could ask parents to help out with more activities, rather than to eliminate them.

“Perhaps more of the parents are willing to help out so some of these activities don’t get cut,” he said.

Bev Taylor, a committee member who is also a teacher in another district, said she appreciated everything that had been said and she knows how tough the situation is.

However, she said she would not want to do anything that would cause teachers to want to leave the district.

“One of our goals in our strategic plan is to attract and keep our quality teachers,” she said. “I want to be careful about that. I’ve been here when we got good teachers, and they left after a year. That hurt us. I don’t want to lose the best.”

Taylor said she would much rather see a salary freeze than cuts in positions.

“There’s people behind those positions,” she said. “There’s families behind those positions. It’s a balancing act—fifth grade band versus freezing or making cuts. We are going to make difficult decisions.”

Kaneland teachers to take a vote on Friday

by Susan O’Neill
Kaneland—Kaneland teachers will take a vote on Friday, Feb. 5, whether or not to re-open salary negotiations with the district. The union representing the teachers, the Kaneland Educators Association (KEA), will announce its decision on Monday, Feb. 8.

According to KEA representative Linda Zulkowski, the KEA leadership met last Friday. They are facilitating an on-line question-and-answer session with the teachers this week, leading up to the vote.

Zulkowski emphasized that the re-negotiation, should the teachers vote in favor of it, would only address the salary increases. She said they informally discussed several options, but they will not discuss anything formally until the vote is taken.

Options discussed include furlough days and spreading out the contracted increase between two years, taking a portion this coming year and the remainder the following year.