Nearly 200 District 58 teachers attend board meeting amid contract negotiations

Clad in red T-shirts, nearly 200 teachers from Downers Grove Grade School District 58 pack Downers Grove Village Hall on June 11 for a show of unity at the Board of Education meeting. Teachers' union leaders outlined for board members their concerns as negotiations for a new contract continue.[]

DOWNERS GROVE – Nearly 200 Downers Grove Grade School District 58 teachers packed Downers Grove Village Hall for the June 11 Board of Education meeting to express unity during ongoing contract negotiations.

Clad in red T-shirts, teachers filled the council chamber seats, stood against the walls and sat on the floor as members of union leadership addressed the board.

The union is in contract negotiations with the district. The two sides are at odds on a variety of issues including salary and health care costs, union officials said.

Craig Young, president of the Downers Grove Elementary Education Association, the union that represents more than 350 teachers and other professional staff, outlined the union's grievances for the board.

“In recent years, the teachers have been the glue, the foundation and the Rock of Gibraltar holding the district together,” Young said. “The teachers have shouldered so much of the burden of this district – burdens which they did not create.”

Young added the district and board have sent signals to the teachers they are not valued.

“The climate and morale of our district remains as low as it has been for many years because teachers do not feel respected as professionals by our leaders on this board," Young said.

Teachers stood during Young's remarks and shouted "no" as he asked a series of questions involving the medical reserve fund, technology expenditures, budget shortfalls and cuts to student services.

Sabrina Breault, a first-grade teacher at Pierce Downer Elementary School, said she "no longer feels valued and appreciated."

"I have lost sleep over the potential change in health care insurance," Breault said.

The district is considering switching to a health savings account, a move the union opposes because it includes high deductibles.

Board members did not respond to comments from union leadership or individual teachers who spoke at the meeting, as public comment rules do not allow them to respond. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the meeting.

Young also criticized the board for failing to hold regular meetings with teachers.

“Well, we are negotiating now, and the teaching professionals of this district will no longer remain silent,” he said. “We will no longer be the sole individuals who carry the burdens of this district.”

Contract negotiations were expected to continue June 12. The union has not considered the possibility of strike, Young said. The teachers' contract expires in August.

Three key issues represent sticking points in the negotiations, according to a fact sheet distributed by the union.

First, teachers are concerned about the drop in the district’s medical reserve fund balance – money that is used to pay health insurance claims. Specifically, they oppose the district’s decision to twice transfer money from the fund to pay for other expenses.

Teachers also point to the district's decision to approve an addition at Lester Elementary School and purchase new iPads for the elementary schools – a decision made at the June 11 meeting. The expenditures indicate other priorities are more important than teachers, union officials said.

Salaries also are a concern. Currently, 28 percent of district teachers do not receive step increases. In 2019, 42 percent of teachers will not receive a step increase, the fact sheet stated.

Teacher salary schedules include steps and lanes. Steps refer to how many years a teacher has been teaching, and lanes refer to how much education the teacher has.