District 289 budget adopted, negotiations continue

MENDOTA –District 289 carried on with regular business at the board of education meeting on Sept. 18.

The FY20 budget was approved as presented.

The budget is the school district’s plan for receipt and expenditure of monies and is the basis for the district’s tax levy. The State requires the budget to be submitted by Sept. 30. The budget was updated slightly since last month's meeting and reflects a $580,000 deficit overall.

The largest deficit comes from the Education Fund with over $580,000 projected in the red. As the largest fund, it accounts for the salaries and benefits by the district. The Operations & Maintenance Fund and the Transportation Fund will also see red with a deficit of over $280,000 and $81,000, respectively.

The State currently owes the District over $70,000, down drastically from previous years.

In other news:

The District continues to strengthen student safety. A Run, Hide, Fight training session for staff was held on Sept. 28. The district is also still discussing secure vestibule options at each school.

In July, the board approved the purchase and installation of carpet tiles for eight classrooms and office areas in the 5th grade wing at Northbrook by Szotts Carpet and Flooring in Peru. After a large miscalculation, Szotts asked the board to consider paying for materials not included in the original quote. The board held to the original quote stating it was not fair to pay additional funds when they might have opted to request bids for the job at the higher cost.

The board also discussed a deteriorating sidewalk at Blackstone School and significant roofing issues that will need to be addressed at both Blackstone and Northbrook schools in the near future.

The board approved new staff members, Rebecca Mecca as first grade teacher at Blackstone and Matthew Chalfin as PE teacher at Lincoln. Three paraprofessionals and two lunchroom supervisors were hired, as well.

But what was most anticipated was any discussion on contract negotiations.

The board listened to parent Veronica Becker in support of higher wages for teachers. She questioned the turnover rate in the district, as well.

Board president Sean Pappas responded by stating that the District had an 87 percent teacher-retention rate, above the state average. This past year, eight teachers left for early retirement and two were not tenured, he added.

Board member Theresa Komitas addressed the room full of teachers present, "This is an incredibly difficult time. A lot of us have children in the district and very much value all that you do. We are very dedicated to try to come out with the best overall solution to our negotiations. Given the opportunity, I think we all would give you the world. On the other hand, we are elected officials responsible with allocating tax dollars in a way that is deemed appropriate. This is not a line in the sand - us against them. We value all that you do and that is why we volunteered to be part of this district."

Negotiations between District 289 and the Mendota Education Association continued on Sept. 19 with a federal mediator.

Supporters of MEA gathered outside the district building during the meeting. Brandon Scheppers, seventh grade social studies teacher and co-president of the Mendota Education Association offered comments.

The two sides are trying to come together on wages and benefits. "It is hard when you lump the figures together with insurance. It is not a fair representation of our membership," he said.

Scheppers stated that not the majority of the members take the benefits offered by the district. However, in last year's salary and benefits report available at Wednesday's district meeting (and available online) only 31 staff members take less than $10,000 in other benefits compared to 53 staff members who take more than $10,000 in benefits. Twenty-six of those are greater than $20,000 in benefits, as well.

"In the Working Cash Fund, at year's end, there was over three million dollars. That money in working cash can be moved anywhere. In the complete look of the district's finances, what we are proposing can be done," stated Scheppers.

The district's FY20 budget shows a net of $143,327 in the Working Cash Fund, therefore, the monies would need to be withdrawn from the Working Cash Fund reserves each year, which is what Scheppers was referring to.

In her office on Monday, Kristen School, district superintendent shared what Working Cash Funds have been used for the past several years. In July 2014, the fund balance was $1.7 million.

In February 2015, there was an abatement of $1.3 million from Working Cash, $800,00 to the Education Fund to cover the deficit and $500,00 to O & M Fund, which was used for asbestos removal, HVAC, electrical, tiling and carpet.

In March 2015, the district received $2.645 million in Working Cash. Working Cash funds replenished the O & M Fund deficit of $718,744 and the Education Fund deficit of $773,000.

In July 2016, the district received annual levy funds which brought the total Working Cash Fund to $3.26 million.

In June 2017, an abatement of funds went to the Education Fund and Transportation Fund of $1 million and $465,000, respectively. The district also sold $1.3 million in Working Cash Bonds for the purpose of restructuring uncertain State funding. It was transferred to the Education Fund and Transportation Fund and used to refund a 2008 bond series saving taxpayers $93,537.

"We try our best to be proactive when we can, but we have really aging buildings and you never know what might happen - which is in part why we have $3 million sitting in the there [Working Cash Fund]," stated School.

School also addressed the current negotiations. "Why wouldn't I want to do the very best for my teachers - whether salary, TRS, insurance? I want them to be as well paid as this community can afford," she said.

As the two sides continue to try to come together in agreement, both offered statements.

From District 289:

We did not make much progress on Sept. 19 in regard to actually settling the issues at hand. Both groups made some movement.

The school board is hopeful for a resolution to the contract dispute without a strike. A strike has such a negative impact on the entire community. That being said, the board and administration are making internal plans should the teachers strike on or about Oct. 16. It is more than just the teachers being on strike. Children cannot come to school. We have another approximately 90 hourly positions made up of janitors, cooks, para-professionals, nurses, secretaries, social workers and more that need to work. We do not want to keep them home during a strike. We are working on a plan to make sure they do not lose income, should the teachers go on strike.

We are offering a competitive salary package to our great teaching staff. A salary package must be looked at from all sides. You have to look at salary, retirement (TRS) and benefits. Yes, it is true, our starting “base” salary is a bit less than other surrounding schools of similar size. However, we are one of the few districts that offer paid family insurance to our staff. We currently pay 85 percent of the family insurance and 90 percent single insurance. The total cost per teacher for family insurance is approximately $22,000 per year. We also provide dental and life insurance at no cost to the teachers.

It is a question for the teachers: Do you want a competitive starting base pay which is a couple thousand more than we are offering now or, do you want the benefit of having 85-90 percent of your insurance paid for and knowing that every time you go to the doctor with your child or your spouse, that you have peace of mind?

There are multiple issues at hand with a teacher negotiation: the most recent offer is a 4 percent raise in year 1 and 2, and 4.5 percent in year 3 to the salary schedule. Every teacher will receive this raise. They also receive an additional built-in raise called a “step” increase. This is an annual accrual raise based upon nothing more than an additional raise for another year of service. We are offering a step increase of $1,405 in year 1 of the contract and $1,410 in years 2 and 3 of the contract. Additionally, we will increase the TRS contribution to 3 percent in years 1, 2 and 3. Currently we pay 2 percent. The total effect of these raises is 6.14 percent in year 1, 4.65 percent in year 2 and 4.59 percent in year 3.

We are trying to be fiscally responsible to our community and tax payers, and also provide a fair and equitable comprehensive salary package to our great teachers.

From Mendota Education Association:

MEA elementary teachers started the evening by sending an offer over to the board that reduced our salary proposal. The board's response was to propose a $5 increase in years 2 and 3 per teacher. The board attempted to bargain regressively on an item regarding planning time for middle school teachers by adding restrictive language to an already tentatively agreed item. By the end of the evening, the language issue was resolved.


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