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District U46 board agrees support services contract

The Elgin-area School District U46 Board of Education has approved a four-year contract with educational support service workers that includes wage increases beginning at 2.75 percent the first year.

The contract covers 140 full-time custodians, maintenance workers and groundskeepers.

Dr. Jeff King, chief operations officer for the district, said it was important for all sides to come to an agreement.

"They did (receive wage increases the last four years), but they were very, very small," he said. "I don't think we'd have come to an agreement had we not approved wage increases."

Under the contract, support service workers employed five years who have worked one year or more at a pay grade level by July 1 of each year will get a wage increase of 2.75 percent in 2016. If they've worked less than a year, they'll receive an increase based on the district's 0.7 percent consumer price index, or the measure of inflation.

The same holds true for those workers who reach that threshold in 2017.

Employees will receive 2.25 percent increases in 2018 and 2019, unless they've worked less than a year at the respective pay grade, in which case their increase will be determined by the CPI. The CPI is established under the property tax limitation law as of the December prior to the date of wage increases.

King said the district will begin the tax-levy process in a couple of weeks.

Board member Cody Holt voted against the deal.

"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," he said. "This contract is locking taxpayers into four years of pay increases and speculating on savings from other portions of the contract."

Holt said contractual increases are the single greatest constraints possible in the budget and take resources out of the classroom.

"This year, I would be inclined to support a one-year raise," he said. "What I object to is locking taxpayers and students into the remaining three years of that contract, since we do not know what our financial situation will be. Since the contractual increases and current collective bargaining processes are not pro-taxpayer, we should be encouraging the state legislature to pass pro-taxpayer structural reforms."

Board member Jeanette Ward agreed.

"I also want to thank the work that you did, Jeff King, with your team," she said. "I appreciate how hard it must be to go back and forth, back and forth, and agree on this and come back again. I thank you for doing that, but I do agree with Mr. Holt and will vote 'no' also."

The vote was 5-2 to approve the contract.

Board President Donna Smith acknowledged the difficulty of negotiations.

"I would just ask Jeff if you would thank our administrative bargaining team, and also ESSO's bargaining team, for taking the time and working hard to get through some really tough subjects and areas and coming up with a fair contract for both our staff and our taxpayers," she said.

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