SUGAR GROVE – The president of Kaneland’s school board said Monday she was hopeful negotiations between School District 302 officials and the Kaneland Education Association can continue, if necessary, during the upcoming winter break.
The board’s president, Teresa Witt, read prepared comments at Monday night’s school board meeting at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. Meanwhile, the KEA’s assistant chief negotiator, Tim Larsen, read a prepared statement of his own, featuring a harsh tone that suggested that it seemed like board members will “continue your unnecessary game of chicken with the KEA.”
Contract negotiations between the two sides are continuing, with a session set for Thursday, as they work on a collective bargaining agreement. On Tuesday, Patrick Crimmins, the chairman of the district’s citizen advisory committee, resigned his position. In his letter, sent to board members, he stated it is “appalling and irresponsible” that teachers have had to wait since April to get a contract done.
“Regardless of what happens when, the injury to morale here is great,” Crimmins wrote. “It may not recover. Memories will not fade.”
Last week, KEA members staged informational picketing sessions near the district’s schools. On Monday, Larsen criticized the school board for “being terrible stewards of the community’s money.” Teachers have said they hope to improve teacher retention by boosting the base salary and that the district has money in reserves that could accomplish that. Also, they have noted – despite two recent pay freezes – that has not resulted in savings for taxpayers, as the district continues to collect the maximum amount possible in property taxes to build its reserves.
Last month, KEA members voted “in favor of moving forward with an intent to strike.”
“I charge you with being hoarders of the community’s money,” Larsen said. “Your philosophy of leadership using that budget is not sufficient for making sound decisions toward providing the excellent education that you are charged to provide.”
The board’s position is that teachers have been offered a fair raise. Witt said teachers would see a salary increase of between 15 percent to 18 percent over the three-year contract. She also said the number of nontenured teachers at Kaneland is 30 percent, less than Geneva (49 percent) and Batavia (32 percent).
She said the reserve funds are necessary, especially because of “our state’s precarious financial position and the possibility of a property tax freeze and shift of teacher pension costs from the state to local school districts.”
Larsen, however, said that isn’t the best use of the district’s funds.
“If you’re not going to spend the taxpayers’ money on maintaining a quality staff to provide that excellent education and reinstating the programs cut for students, then I say give that money back to the taxpayers,” he said. “They will do better things with all of that money for the community than you will.”
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.