Parents raise concerns with Crete Monee school officials
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org May 26, 2014 5:30PM
A crowd listens to questions and answers during a community forum in Crete-Monee School District 201U Thursday night at the Towncenter in University Park. Susan DeMar Lafferty|Sun Times Media
Updated: June 28, 2014 6:10AM
For more than two hours last week, about 100 teachers, parents and taxpayers sought answers from Crete Monee School District 201U school officials on a wide variety of topics during a community forum.
Among their concerns, they wanted to know why there is no contract for teachers and when a new superintendent would be named. They questioned the lack of music, art, technology and African-American literature programs and the level of diversity among staff members.
Board president Nakia Hall said the goal for the forum — which the public requested — was to “bring down a wall that seems to be between the board and the community.”
Teachers, who belong to the Crete Monee Education Association passed out copies of a letter union president Mary Bragg presented at the May 20 board meeting, and a list of “facts” about the district.
The letter asked that negotiations be resumed and that the board members “come to the table prepared and ready for all discussions so that negotiations can be completed with an equitable compensation package and fair contract.”
A mediator has been involved in negotiations — at the teachers’ request — and all financial issues still are on the table, Bragg said.
Teachers and parents said they are concerned that four top administrative positions are unfilled for the next school year, which begins July 1 — no superintendent, assistant superintendent for human relations, assistant superintendent for business management and assistant superintendent for student services.
Supt. John Rodgers, who also was chief negotiator during the contract talks, planned to retire at the end of this year, but left in November. George Elrod, assistant superintendent for student services, will retire June 30.
Regarding a new superintendent, Hall said they have selected a candidate after a nationwide search and are working with his attorney to have a “sound contract.”
In a separate interview, she said they are looking to fill the other three top administrative posts “expeditiously.”
According to the job postings on the district’s website, the district also needs to find a high school dean, high school assistant principal, band director and numerous teaching positions at all grade levels as well as support staff.
“All our people are starting to leave,” a parent said.
One community member questioned why teachers deserve more money if the schools are “consistently failing.” Others complained about overcrowded classrooms and a lack of homework help.
Board member Maurice Brown said he doesn’t blame the teachers for the “lack of progress.”
“It takes a village to raise a child,” he said.
Board members also said the district’s inability to pay a competitive teacher’s salary makes it difficult to attract and retain teachers. Hiring is not a matter of race but of hiring the “best” candidates, Hall said.
She assured the crowd that the board supports its teachers and wants a fair contract.
“When trying to be fair it takes some time. The board has to do its due diligence,” she said. Negotiations will be scheduled “as soon as possible.”
The lack of programs is due to budget cuts, board members said.
Board member Mike Turay urged residents to contact their elected officials in Springfield and urge them to boost education funding.
Lack of funds also was the reason given for not acknowledging the loyalty of its support staff.
Jonathan Thompson, an employee in the receiving department, said it would improve morale if they could get some recognition for their service.
“We cannot always compensate for loyalty,” board member Kim Sanders said.
Turay received the only applause of the night when he answered a question about why a policy prohibiting saggy, baggy pants was not enforced.
“I would love to see uniforms,” he said.