District 65, Teachers’ Union Clash Over New Contract

Negotiations stalled in June; the union has already given initial authorization for a strike.

A federal mediator will step in this month to oversee bargaining sessions between the District 65 school board and its teachers’ union after negotiations for a new contract broke down earlier this summer.

Several sessions between the mediator, the teacher’s union and district administrators have been scheduled for August, according to a press release from Jean Luft, president of the District 65 Educator’s Council (DEC), the union.

“Even though the DEC membership has already given the initial authorization for a strike, it is our greatest hope to reach an agreement that continues the tradition of high quality instruction in District 65,” Luft said. 

Teachers are in the midst of negotiating a new contract that would begin with the 2012-13 school year—but according to Luft, discussion has “stalled around a series of proposed changes for the next school year.”

Specifically, union members have  the district’s plan to trim the budget by eliminating some elementary fine arts teachers, increasing class sections for other fine arts teachers and dividing those teachers among schools, according to Luft. 

“DEC believes these changes will have a significantly negative effect on the quality of education in District 65 and impair the district’s ability to recruit and retain excellent teachers,” Luft said in the release. 

As part of its plan to balance the 2012-13 budget, the district has proposed to reduce its fine arts and physical education staff by six positions. Four of those cuts would be made through staff retiring or leaving the district, while art teachers at  and  elementary schools were notified that their jobs were on the line.    

“This is something we have considered in the past, but it was easier to accomplish this year because of who was retiring or who was leaving,” explained District 65 spokesperson Pat Markham. “We are doing the best we can to support our teachers, to support our students and to be fiscally responsible.”

The district is already sharing some art and music teachers among schools, but proposed cuts would mean that every art teacher travels to a different school at least once a week. Each art teacher would have seven 40-minute classes per day, instead of six, meaning students would have the same amount of time with teachers, but teachers would have shorter planning periods. While six schools already have shared arts teachers, , ,  and  have had full-time art and music staff up to this point. 

Markham said she could not comment on the specific issues under discussion due to the confidential nature of bargaining sessions. However, she said that the district had proposed the scheduling and staffing changes based on the terms of the four-year contract that expires on the first day of school this fall. 

“Management assumes that certain terms will roll over,” she said. “We used the terms from the existing contract to move forward.

The union has been negotiating with the administration since March, and representatives have been able to agree on some parts of a contract. But in June, both parties agreed it was necessary to bring in a federal mediator. There are five such meetings scheduled in August, according to Markham; if the school board and the union can’t come to an agreement after those meetings, either party may request arbitration from the Illinois Labor Relations Board.    

"The Board of Education is willing to negotiate with DEC and is committed to work with DEC during August to provide a fair contract that is both fiscally responsible and delivers a high quality education for all our students," board president Katie Bailey said on Monday.

In , Bailey said the proposed cuts were necessary to stave off major financial troubles in the future. 

“Our process began last spring, when we saw a large deficit looming,” Bailey said. “Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district.”

Staffing reductions and scheduling changes will continue to be up for discussion until the budget is voted on in August, according to Bailey.  

“We are avoiding the massive layoffs that some districts have faced,” she said. “We believe our approach is better than having larger class sizes and fewer classroom teachers.”

Richard Schulte August 02, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Let the teachers go on strike. We saw what happened in Wisconsin when the teachers rioted. We are midst of a recession which has lasted over 4 years. The economy is slowing once again. The official unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, althought the actual unemployment rate is far higher. 46 million Americans are using the food stamp program. Given the economic conditions, the teachers should be thankful that they have jobs. We should be talking about reducing teachers salaries. And we should be talking about schools being in session for 12 months of the year. The public schools in Evanston are abysmal. Time for a change.
Eric Lieberman August 02, 2012 at 12:13 PM
And, Richard, add to the pot the the property tax burden that will be added if the plan moves forward to shift teachers pension fund liability to local districts. This is all just another mess caused by the mismanagement and ostrich-head-in-the sand at the state government level. The legislature has pushed the can down the road for years - we are just seeing the consequences. We are going to be maxed out on solving problems the same old way: with money. Well, folks, the money pit is not bottomless! Someone needs to think out of the box here! All of the fine arts are essential in developing children into well aligned, independent thinking, creative individuals. Someone tell me there isn't a difference between societies that have supported the arts versus those that decided that the arts could be neglected. Abandoning the arts in our schools - whether en grosse or piece meal, is an option of last resort. The concern about having effective arts education in our schools is genuine. Over on www.expectmore.us/blog I am posting an article from Americans for the Arts listing the outcomes of various studies regarding the arts in schools. The conclusions are irrefutable. It gets hard for us outsiders to figure out if issues like traveling teachers and sharing classrooms are really a threat to good arts education. I wonder how Roycemore does it? In the meantime, our teachers and administrators need to think in a new and better way. The same old shtick just won't fly.
Joshua Bernstein August 02, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Eric, you are correct that we need to think outside the box on this issue. A group of parents has begun exploring how arts education can be more fully integrated into the curriculum. While in the short term we are trying to stem the losses, we are also trying to envision how to make arts a part of the core curriculum and to give our children the benefits pointed to in the studies you link to in your post. I can tell you from our experience at Oakton that the problem is not the arts teachers, but an administration that pays lip service to arts education, but equates minutes in the classroom with quality. We have outstanding arts teachers who give of their time far beyond what is required in their contract. They run extracurricular activities on their own time. For example, our visual arts teacher opens her classroom during her own lunch hour so that kids can come in and have unstructured art time. These teachers create the culture that binds Oakton together. If these teachers adhered to the letter of the contract, all of the extracurricular activities would be cut, all the enrichment they provide the school would be lost, but the administration's bean counters would be happy. It would be a tragedy. Richard, you keep commenting about things about which you know nothing. You live in Florida; you never sent your children to a District 65 school, so why don't you take your uninformed opinion elsewhere. We aren't interested in what you have to say.
Eric Lieberman August 02, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Joshua - my first foray into the arts was as a kindergartner at Oakton School a long, long time ago. Many of my adult resentments stem from my 5th grade class not being the one chosen to do the "Maypole Dance". (Is it still a tradition there?) I am glad to hear about the creative thinking going on at Oakton and the initiative and dedication of its teachers. Tell me, can outsiders volunteer to help with art's programs? There are a lot of fine...no exceptional artists in Evanston...that would rally to the call!. (As far as Richard - so few people take the trouble to even respond to these public blogs, I would hate to see Richard depart our ranks. At least he has opinions and the ability to express them.)
J C August 02, 2012 at 01:57 PM
" Let them eat cake "
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) August 02, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Joshua, thanks for commenting. I'd be curious to hear more about what your group of parents is doing. Could you shoot me an e-mail at jenniferf@patch.com?
Marian kurz August 02, 2012 at 02:40 PM
The public schools are not abysmal, what a sad statement. Evanston has some absolutely wonderful teachers and administrators; don't short change the kids. Costs much be watched carefully but don't tar the teachers with the money brush; there are other high costs beside the classroom.
Jim Osburn August 02, 2012 at 07:12 PM
With the pain of just having paid our real estate tax (a couple of months early due to government efficiency-bah!), and seeing the tax due increase while our property values decrease, I believe that taxpayers are less sensitive to cries of public workers. Besides asking, "how does Roycemore do it?" let's also ask, "how do the parochial schools do it?" The Catholic schools are no longer staffed with low cost nuns and the Protestant ones never did have such an advantage, yet they provide a good education for a fraction of the cost of public systems. I know that the Pope John XXIII school has a fair share of academic awards and Golden Apple teachers. A fitting observance of Milton Friedman's 100th birthday would be for Evanston to take the lead and establish voucher system for its student population.
Joshua Bernstein August 02, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Jim, this is not about the cries of public workers; it is about a false efficiency being touted by the District 65 administration that will have a deleterious effect on the education of our children. The administration and the union are in contract negotiations, and each side will argue its position. However, the administration mistakenly equates simple hours spent in the classroom with excellence. I suspect that if you look at the Catholic or Protestant schools -- or Roycemore -- the teachers are given the proper time during the day to prepare. The administration's idea is to take that time away from District 65's teachers and substitute it with class time. There isn't enough room in these comments to explain the system entirely, but it boils down to the arts staff being deprived of the time they need to provide excellent education. For example, Dawes has a kiln for ceramics projects. Under the administration's proposal Dawes' art teacher will not have time to do much more than drawing and painting, and the children will lose the opportunity to do ceramics. A resource paid for by you and me will sit unused. As to Milton Friedman and his ilk, I have neither the time nor space to properly refute that suggestion, but suggest you look at our current economy as the inevitable result of Friedman's free market philosophy.
Richard Schulte August 02, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Mr. Bernstein is correct-I do live in Florida now, but prior to May, 2012, I lived in Evanston. In fact, I lived in Evanston for 29 years. From 1983 to 1994, I lived across from Oakton School and from 1994 to 2012, I lived across the street from Lincoln School. Let me say this again, the public schools is Evanston are abysmal. Oakton School was in bad shape in 1983 and, unlike good wine, buildings do not improve with age. Evanston schools are an embarassment.
Richard Schulte August 02, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Eric Lieberman: (As far as Richard - so few people take the trouble to even respond to these public blogs, I would hate to see Richard depart our ranks. At least he has opinions and the ability to express them.) Mr. Lieberman, I have already departed "our ranks". After living almost 30 years in Evanston and a little more than 50 years in Illinois, I had enough. I am now a resident of Florida. The "straw that broke the camel's back" was the Quinn income tax increase and the talk of banning plastic bags in Evanston. Simply because I no longer live in Evanston, doesn't mean that I don't care about Evanston anymore, however. I just think it's sad that they left the place go to seed. I'm not sure whether or not it's too late for Evanston (and Chicago)-only the future will tell. Given the financial problems in Chicago and the State of Illinois, things don't look promising.
Richard Schulte August 02, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Joshua Bernstein: "Jim, this is not about the cries of public workers; it is about a false efficiency being touted by the District 65 administration that will have a deleterious effect on the education of our children." With all due respect, b.s. The Evanston public schools are high cost and Evanston's children do not get a good education-the worst of both worlds. The teachers and the administrators are both overpaid and under-worked. Evanston taxpayers' are being taken for a ride.
Richard Schulte August 02, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Joshua Bernstein: "As to Milton Friedman and his ilk, I have neither the time nor space to properly refute that suggestion, but suggest you look at our current economy as the inevitable result of Friedman's free market philosophy." Mr. Bernstein is right, the public schools in Cuba are so much better than those in the United States. Health care is better in Cuba too. That's what we need in America, a dose of good old-fashioned Cuban socialism. Kook. A school voucher system and privatizing public education is the only way to break-up the public school/teachers' union monopoly. Monopolies never seem to work out very well. Privatizing public education is an idea whose time has come. Louisiana, under the leadership of Governor Bobby Jindal (R), is leading the way on a state-wide basis.
Sully August 02, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Oh my- http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/blog/index.php/2012/06/louisianas-voucher-plan-to-de-privatize-private-schools/ Uh oh Rich, this isn't a left wing blog. It's for Ayn Rand followers.
cindy lane August 06, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Richard, What is interesting is that the subject of salary has not yet come up; focus is on making sure students have teachers who are not moving about, and who have time to give them what they need.


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