District 219 employees: Let’s make a deal
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:07AM
SKOKIE — A sea of gray T-shirts at the Niles Township High School District 219 administrative building Aug. 27 sent a unified message to district officials: School employees are committed to meeting the highest professional standards and securing fair contracts.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the monthly school-board meeting to express support for a swift and satisfactory end to collective-bargaining discussions.
Pending contract talks also resulted in the board’s decision to delay adoption of an operating budget for the 2012-13 school year until next month.
District 219 teachers and support staff are currently working under agreements that expired Aug. 20, the day before Niles West and Niles North high schools were back in session.
Presidents Pankaj Sharma, of the Niles Township Federation of Teachers, and Dave Dorl, of the Niles Township Support Staff, addressed officials on behalf of more than 100 union members present in the room. They were flanked by several dozen more supporters outside the building.
Union members “see ourselves as your most important partners in creating and maintaining these excellent schools,” Sharma told the board.
“We are privileged to work in these buildings,” he said. “We love our students and we love the sense of fufillment we receive from our work with them.”
Sharma described the negotiation process, which formally began in March, as “smooth, positive, and drama-free.”
Since July a federal mediator has assisted teachers union and district representatives in settling the new contract.
The parties last met Aug. 25 and are expect to reconvene Aug. 30.
Sharma’s closing statement — “We know that we can all look forward to the day in the very near future (when) there will be signed a fair and just contract.” — evoked a thunderous round of applause.
Board President Robert Silverman thanked union members for their diligence in preparing students for college and reminded them of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities.
“We ultimately need to agree on a contract that people believe is fair but that our taxpayers also believe is fair,” he said. “I do think we’re really close.”
District 219 tentatively approved a new budget in July of $156 million, a 7.31-percent increase in spending over last year’s expenses.
The board allocated about $94 million for salaries, benefits and other expenses for instructional and support services, though that amount may be adjusted as a result of contract negotiations.
Property taxes comprise 88-percent of total direct revenue.