The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board split vote approves tentative pact
By Seth Hancock
By split votes, the Board of Education in School District U-46 approved a tentative union contract agreement as well as the destruction of closed session minutes and recordings at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 17.
A four-year contract agreement with the Education Support Services Organization was approved by a 5-2 vote, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voting no, which Jeff King, chief operations officer, said includes guaranteed salary raises of 2.75 percent in both the first and second years and 2.25 percent in each of the final two.
King said bargaining lasted about six months, which he said was normal, and the contract will be publicly posted in about a month. Language was changed concerning workday, flexible spending accounts, health insurance and retirement, association leave, relief assignments, seniority, uniform stipends, classifications, retirement pension and wages according to King.
Holt appreciated that the administration “represented the will of the majority of the board members,” but with a minority opinion he felt he could not support the guaranteed pay raises for four years beyond cost of living, which would be represented by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to a Fiscal Year 2017 budget presentation by the district, CPI is at 0.7 percent.
“The main reason I will be opposing this contract is because any contract that has raises above a cost of living increase is unsustainable without statewide structural reforms,” Holt said. “This contract is locking taxpayers into four years of pay increases and speculating on savings from other portions of the contract. Contractual increases are the single greatest constraints we have in our budget. These increases take resources out of the classroom and put the burden back onto the taxpayers to make up the difference.”
Holt emphasized his vote wasn’t “against the hardworking people” of the district and he “would be inclined to support a one-year raise.”
However, the current bargaining process isn’t “pro-taxpayer” and the district “should be encouraging the state legislature to pass pro-taxpayer structural reforms” according to Holt who added that property taxpayers need relief which cannot occur when the district continues to guarantee pay raises beyond CPI.
U-46 has been “very vocal” in supporting so-called “equitable funding” by the state, but the district should also be lobbying for “structural reforms” Holt said while tacitly endorsing Right-to-Work (RTW) laws as one of those reforms. On the lobbying for “equitable funding,” The Examiner has noted U-46 has continued that effort despite the poor financial climate of Illinois, and according to usdebtclock.org the state’s debt is $163.3 billion and rising.
Illinois is a compulsory union dues state meaning that for public sector employment you must pay some sort of dues to the union in order to work, but RTW laws give workers the freedom to work without joining or paying dues to a union. According to the National Right to Work Foundation, 26 states currently have RTW laws.
Holt supported that idea in saying that public sector unions have too much power over the taxpayers, who fund them, which needs to be limited, and that would be a win for good public sector employees who would be empowered by “allowing them the choice to decide whether or not they want to join a union” and by allowing individuals to bargain for their own value rather than being “lumped into a collective.”
Union membership in the private sector, where workers have generally had more freedom to compete, has rapidly declined from 34.7 percent to 11.1 percent between 1954 and 2014 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and Congressional Budget Office numbers show a 23 percent rise in inflation-adjusted compensation during the same general time period. A 2015 Gallup poll showed 71 percent of Americans support RTW laws.
Ward said “I appreciate how hard it must be to go back and forth, back and forth” to come to an agreement, but she agreed with Holt’s concerns and could also not support the contract.
Donna Smith, the board’s president, supported the contract and called it “a fair contract for both our staff and our taxpayers.”
By a 4-3 vote, Phil Costello joining Holt and Ward in voting no, the board approved the destruction of 10 closed session meeting written minutes from 2016 and 11 recordings between 2014 and 2015. The recordings to be destroyed did not include the Jan. 25, 2014 tape.
The board is currently working on a change to its policy Section 2.201, which concerns closed session recordings, after the state’s General Assembly clarified local elected officials’ rights to access recordings. This comes after the board changed its policy last year in order to deny access of recordings to Ward who was newly elected.
Part of the recent discussions on the upcoming change to Section 2.201 is the need for the board to have more thorough discussions on whether or not to allow public releases of closed session minutes and recordings, but despite a change coming soon apparently the board majority felt it was appropriate to destroy these minutes and recordings.
“I would like us to have a conversation about whether we destroy” these items Ward said, and “I don’t think we’ve really delved into that, and so I’m not comfortable with destroying more recordings.”
Smith said “the need for confidentiality still exists” without any discussion. Smith did not offer any reason why confidentiality was still needed, nor did any of the majority that voted in favor of destruction.
The board did unanimously approve $8.1 million in itemized bills as well as a one-year contract with Central Area Interpreter Referral Services costing $254,029, which will be paid for out of the education fund, and a $29,766 expenditure with Elgin Community College, which the nation’s taxpayers will be asked to pay through Title I and II funds.