Despite his Superintendent Dr. Robert Machak is encouraged that the teachers’ union still wants to sit down at the table and talk.
Machak joined the school district as its superintendent on July 1, and was well aware during the interview process that negotiations were underway for a new teachers’ contract.
He called the stormy start eight weeks into his new job “interesting.”
“The vote to authorize a strike is a strategy that is used often,” Machak said. “The union leadership has assured me they want to continue to sit down at the table and get the contract finalized.”
Contract negotiations have been ongoing since late April. A federal mediator is now handling the bargaining sessions. Evergreen Park Teachers’ Federation, Local 943 and the school board
On Tuesday, the teachers’ union overwhelmingly rejected the district’s latest contract proposal and authorized the union bargaining team to call a strike by a near unanimous vote.
Both sides are finalizing their “best and final offers” that will be posted on the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board’s website, in accordance with state codes. Teachers could go on strike as early as Sept. 21.
Machak said the D124 school board and teachers union have another bargaining session scheduled later this week.
The teachers union has charged that the school district is sitting on a $16 million fund balance—75 percent of its annual operating budget of $23.8 million—without investing any of the surplus back into the classroom.
The union has blamed overly conservatively budgeting predicting shortfalls that never occur. Instead, over the past five years, the district has ended the school year with a surplus.
The D124 superintendent acknowledged that the audited figures on the district’s annual financial reports were accurate.
The school board is expected to approve the 2012-13 operating budget for the district’s five public schools by the end of September.
“One of the key components to the budget that we have to keep in mind is that we’re anticipating operating at a deficit of $850,000,” Machak said.
Citing building repairs, technology upgrades for classrooms and hiring additional staff because of large class sizes in some of the district schools, Machak said the district won’t even begin spending down the surplus until they know what happens in Springfield.
The Illinois General Assembly is poised to vote during the fall veto session in November on whether the state should put its agreed upon contribution to the state-run Teachers Retirement System back on local school district. TRS maintains the state's unfunded pension liability is $44 billion.
“There is talk of passing the increases on to local school districts by raising property taxes,” Machak said. “If [state legislature] does decide to do this will it be phased in over time or will the district immediately be responsible for 100 percent of the payments [to the teachers’ retirement fund.]?”
To spend the reserves now without knowing the future would be irresponsible on the district’s part, Machack said.
“It’s not like we’re sitting on a pile of money. It’s the board and my responsibility to plan for a lot of different contingencies. I can understand where the union would say ‘if you have that money why don’t you share it,’” he added.
Machak anticipates the district ending the 2012-13 school year with an $850,000 deficit because of major building repairs slated for some D124 schools.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford alluded that the district’s budgeting processes are “overly conservative,” which predicted shortfalls that never happened. Instead of deficits, the school district came out ahead.
Machak doesn’t want the negotiating process filtering down to students and affecting the school day.
Both sides must exchange their final proposals when they meet again on Thursday.
“Hopefully we’ll come to an agreement,” the superintendent said. “That’s certainly my hope and the hope of the union leadership.”
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