Niles’ District 71 teachers want board voice
Updated: April 29, 2013 2:15AM
Culver School teachers have unsuccessfully tried to convince District 71 leadership last month that they needed more face time and dialogue with the school board.
So, they recently tried again.
Flanked by two dozen colleagues, longtime music instructor Christine Dworak read a letter at the Feb. 19 Board of Education meeting asking officials to consider reinstating a Teacher/Administration/Board, or TAB, committee.
Bringing staff and the board together for discussion would help the school district “stay on top of what the future of education holds for our children,” Dworak said, adding: “The staff is overwhelmingly in favor of formulating this committee.”
A federal mediator mandated the creation of such a committee two decades ago, following a strike in 1994 by the Niles Council of Teachers during contract negotiations.
It was the first and only time in the history of Niles Elementary School District 71 union staff had picketed.
While contracts aren’t an apparent issue now – the current teachers’ agreement through June 2016 was ratified last summer – there are other topics to talk about, the instructors insist.
Pension reform, teacher evaluations, and the ever-changing demands of technology come to mind, said special education teacher John Petitt.
“I don’t know that we have concerns,” he said. “We just want a chance to reconnect in a meaningful way.”
He credited the successful contract negotiation to face-to-face sit downs where teachers and officials shared their visions for Culver School.
“I think (the TAB committee) is a way to continue that,” he said.
District 71 Superintendent Amy Kruppe says avenues for communication between teaching staff and district leaders already exist. School board presentations, weekly meetings with union leaders, and 20 teacher administrative committees are a few of the ways in which teacher feedback is solicited.
“Our teachers have a very active role with opportunities to provide input to our school,” Kruppe said. “We are proud of this collaboration, believe it is important, and intend on continuing these opportunities.”
Kruppe also noted the school board’s duties don’t typically include participating in committees for the sake of discussion.
“When you look at the role of the board, it’s to do policy, it’s to approve the budget, and it’s to hire the superintendent to run the district,” she said.
John Zuckerman, who served on the school board when District 71 introduced the TAB committee in the mid-90’s, remembered the meetings to be informal.
“It was sitting around and talking,” he said.
He said conversations were sometimes valuable but, eventually, “no one had any meat” left to discuss and “the committee died its own death.”
Zuckerman favors waiting until after the April 9 election to act on the teachers’ request.
This year, four out of the seven seats on the District 71 Board of Education are up for grabs. Zuckerman, Board President Patrick Byrne, and Secretary Mary Krueger are retiring.
Incumbent Matt Holbrook and newcomers Jill Astbury-Brocar and Matt Glancy filed for candidacy, leaving one seat unaccounted for. Once the election is over, the board will fill the vacancy.
A new board is expected to be in place by May 2013.