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Teachers, Administration Butt Heads Over Budget Cuts in District 65

Teachers rallied to protest proposed cuts to fine arts positions before Monday night’s District 65 board meeting. Contract negotiations continue between union representatives and the administrations.

At least one hundred teachers and their supporters marched down Church Street to the last night, protesting a proposed budget that includes cuts to arts, music and P.E. staff. 

Members of the teachers’ union, the District 65 Educator’s Council (DEC), are in the midst of negotiating a new contract that would begin with the 2012-13 school year, which starts on the first day of school—just two weeks away. After both parties could not reach agreement on their own, a federal mediator came in to assist with the negotiations in August. 

“Let’s get the contract settled, let’s get the school doors open and let’s give the children the quality education they deserve,” union president Jean Luft told the school board. The union has already voted to authorize the preliminary actions necessary to strike, but Luft said they were hoping to avoid such action. 

Earlier: 

Board members voted 6-0 to approve on Monday night. It includes a one percent decrease in salaries and a one percent reduction in benefits—which together make up 85 percent of total expenditures—in part due to several reductions in staff. Altogether, the board proposes not to fill nine vacancies or retirements, reassign 22.5 positions, eliminate 4.5 temporary positions and not rehire two teachers. 

Union members and parents the cuts proposed to fine arts, music and P.E. teaching positions. Three of those cuts would be made through staff retiring or leaving the district, while art teachers at and Bessie Rhodes schools have been notified that they will not be asked to return this fall. 

The district is already sharing some art and music teachers among schools, but the 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.

Dawes parent and PTA co-president Saul Lieberman came to the meeting with his three sons to protest the board’s plan. The arts cuts would mean that his school would lose its new art teacher, and that the music teacher will teach in another school two days a week. 

“What looks good to you on paper is not always best for the students,” Lieberman said. “What’s best for our children? A schedule chock full of art, music and P.E. that’s not minimized; excellent teachers who are treated like professionals, given adequate time to plan and collaborate; and a district with a clear vision on what high quality instruction in art, drama, music and physical education looks like.” 

In a prepared statement, board president Katie Bailey said that the board’s proposal did not reduce planning time beyond what is required under the current teacher’s contract, which expires on the first day of the 2012-13 school year.

“The board has worked hard to respond to DEC’s concerns and has made substantial efforts to compromise,” Bailey said. “Currently, we are waiting for union leadership to respond to proposals made during last week’s negotiation session.” 

In the past, Bailey has said that the district is in the future by making cutbacks now. 

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

The board passed a motion to adopt the tentative budget, including the reductions in teaching positions, with little discussion. Since teacher salaries and benefits are still being negotiated, , according to comptroller Kathy Zalewski. 

Zalewski noted that the state legislature’s action on pension reform could also impact the final numbers. Legislators met last week in a special section to discuss House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan to shift some of the burden of pension costs to local school districts, . 

The tentative budget will be put on display online and in the District 65 office on Aug. 24, with a public hearing and final vote scheduled for Sept. 24.

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