Kaneland teachers agree to wage freeze

By on April 16, 2010

Action saves 30 jobs, sports, clubs, activities
by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—An agreement among the Kaneland School District teachers union, administration and School Board will replace $1.1 million in the 2010-11 school year budget, saving 30 teaching and professional positions and restoring all middle school and high school sports, clubs and activities.

The Kaneland Education Association (KEA) voted on the action on Sunday. The KEA and school officials signed the letter of agreement on Monday evening.

Under the terms of the agreement, the KEA will delay a scheduled 5.6-percent salary increase by one year. The raises were scheduled to take effect prior to the 2010-11 school year, which was also the final year of the KEA’s three-year contract. Sunday’s agreement extends that contract by one year, and the raises will take effect prior to the 2011-12 school year.

Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Jeff Schuler said he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations with the KEA. With the exception of those who would be let go for performance issues, all of the personnel who were released will come back. However, an additional 11 educational support staff will be let go, including four paraprofessionals and seven secretaries.

High school math teacher and chess club advisor Ken Dentino shared Schuler’s pleasure with the outcome of the negotiations. Dentino’s chess club was one of the activities on the chopping block under the phase one budget reduction plan.

“I’m really happy that everything came back,” he said. “All of the programs that got cut were important to help students to become well-rounded.”

Dentino said the negotiated settlement was really a package deal that is in everyone’s best interest. Bringing back all the teachers and the programs has the effect of retaining the current class sizes, as well as keeping quality teachers and programs.

“We’re living in some interesting and unique times,” he said. “I hope that we don’t have to make this type of decision again.”

KEA chief negotiator Lynn McHenry was asked if she thought the teachers should have come to the agreement on the wage freeze earlier in the year, prior to the knowledge of the state’s additional shortfall.

“I’m not going to second-guess our initial decision,” she said. “It was the best decision at the time. This decision is the best one for the children at this time.”

KEA President Linda Zulkowski said she was glad the negotiation process was over and that she could get back to doing what she loves to do—teach.

“I wasn’t really worried,” she said. “I always knew that KEA would do the right thing.”

Schuler cautioned that funding will continue to be a challenge due to the state’s budget problems.

Budget deficit background
Faced with a $2.6 million budget deficit due to reduced revenues based on the economic downturn and reduced growth and the looming shortfall from the state, the Kaneland School Board voted in March on a $3.1 million phase one budget cut package that included the elimination of 23 positions, a salary freeze for administrative and non-union educational support staff, as well as the deferral of all technology replacements for next year.

Phase one cuts also included the elimination of fifth grade band, sixth and seventh grade interscholastic athletics, replaced by intramural sports, 11 high school clubs, the elimination of 10 high school athletics coaches and the after-activity bus service.

Subsequent to learning of a potential shortfall from the state of up to $2.2 million for the coming school year, the administration gave notice last month to more than 100 teachers and other professionals, including school psychologists, librarians, school nurses, reading specialists and social workers, that their contract would not be renewed for next year.

District officials said this gave them the flexibility needed to restructure classes, and that ultimately only about 30 would lose their jobs.