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District 153, teachers extend contract while work continues on funding

The District 153 school board and the Homewood Education Association (HEA), representing teachers and staff at Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools, approved a one-year extension of the current HEA contract.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, the board gave its approval to a memorandum of understanding that was mutually agreed upon with HEA. Superintendent Scott McAlister said the agreement extends the contract through the 2024-25 school year and will continue the 3.9% salary increase for HEA members. Negotiations on a new contract will begin in fall 2024.

The school board asked for the extension hoping to get legislation approved that will allow the district to collect the dollars it anticipated receiving from the 2022 referendum.

“Rather than go into negotiations this year on the possibility that we might be able to get some extra dollars if our legislative effort is successful, we asked HEA if they’d be willing to extend the existing contract for one year,” McAlister said. “Thank you to the HEA for understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The superintendent said the board is hoping local legislators will get legislation passed “that would enable us to capture the levy that was approved by the voters.” 

The referendum was approved by 70% of the district’s voters in November 2022. It was designed to help District 153 close its $2 million deficit, avoid cuts to staff and programs, and provide enough money to make improvements to the aging school buildings.

The referendum was designed to raise $4 million in new cash by increasing the educational rate that had remained stagnant for 30 years. The  tax rate jumped from $4.40 to $5.60 per $100 equalized assessed value (EAV) of property. At the same time, the overall tax rate should drop within the next three years because the district is paying off its general obligation bonds.

The problem is that no one foresaw Cook County lowering property assessments by around 9%.  That greatly reduced the benefit from the referendum $4 million down to $2.1 million.

The school board is hoping legislation will make a change to have the referendum question reflect the $4 million dollar amount the district needs. The ballot question asked for approval to raise $4 million, but the increase got tied to EAV which fluctuates, McAlister explained.

The board isn’t certain that the change can be made, but it’s hoping there is a solution.

“It’s a big if, but we’re working on it,” McAlister said.

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