DeKalb District 428 officials respond to union concerns, say referendum is ‘last choice for our school district’

“I build community with everyone by being present and available. I have met with DCTA leadership at least monthly and any other time they have requested it.”

DeKALB - In response to recent DeKalb School District 428 union concern regarding district leadership, Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said Wednesday she’s met with the union “as least monthly and any other time they have requested it.”

In a statement provided to the Daily Chronicle on Wednesday following Tuesday’s school board meeting, the DeKalb superintendent addressed concern brought forward by Huntley Middle School teacher Kevin Boland. A member of the DeKalb Classroom Teachers’ Association union, Boland said Tuesday that DeKalb teachers are “exhausted and feel disrespected” and asked district leaders how they plan to “build trust with staff who feels their voice are not being heard?”

“I build community with everyone by being present and available,” Garcia-Sanchez said in a statement. “I have met with DCTA leadership at least monthly and any other time they have requested it. I am seen in the community, I have an open-door policy and I also visit schools frequently, and I will begin visiting classes in November.”

Garcia-Sanchez said that the DCTA union contractually has input “on how things will be run in our district and buildings.”

“DCTA has a voice on every committee to support the development of framework, policy and all instructional practices,” Garcia-Sanchez said.

District spokesperson Valerie Peña-Hernandez, who also is the family and community coordinator and communication contact, said Wednesday that the DeKalb district is “in no way or form proposing a referendum.”

The response comes after DeKalb School Board President Sarah Moses read a letter Tuesday that laid out strategic plans to address districtwide challenges such as staffing shortages, overcrowded classrooms and facilities. A referendum was brought forward as an idea, Moses said, through strategic planning and a district demographic study expected to be complete by the end of the year.

“There would be the option of a potential referendum to build a new elementary school, if necessary,” Moses said. “Further clarity will be provided by the results of the demography study and the architect’s findings and recommendations.”

Pena-Hernandez said a referendum “is the last choice for our school district,” and that it would not be considered “unless all other choices have been considered and ruled out.”

“There are many steps that need to take place before discussion of a referendum occurs,” Pena-Hernandez said. “It’s important the community understands that the demographer’s study will allow us to understand where the trends are, then determine if we need to add space to a building or if truly a new school is necessary. If a new school is necessary, discuss what our options are financially, which could include using grant funds and looking at potential financial options.”

In response to union concerns voiced Tuesday related to lack of new hires at the teacher and support staff level while new administrators come on board, Pena-Hernandez outlined several new hires and their responsibilities.

Pena-Hernandez, a former school board member, is among the recent new hires. As family and community coordinator, she said she’s tasked with assisting family and community relations as well as districtwide communication to ensure transparency with the community and media sources.

Additional new hires include a new improvement and innovation director that Pena-Hernandez said allowed for the creation of a strategic plan and a new data strategist tasked with formulating instructional practices.

The remainder of the new positions have yet to be filled, she said, but include a social-emotional coordinator, math specialist, an HR specialist and an administrative assistant for improvement and innovation.

In response to requests by the unions to bargain in relation to what the representatives said were additional COVID-19 proposals, Pena-Hernandez cited the Collective Bargaining Illinois School Board Member book, which mandates the school board’s participation in bargaining and states, “The school board is under no obligation to accept any of these proposals.”

“However, the board and administration, having good faith, heard every proposal and continue to listen to every proposal,” Pena-Hernandez said.

She also shared COVID-19 vaccination rates for each union: the DCTA is 93% vaccinated, the DeKalb Federal of School Assistants is 80% vaccinated, the DFFS union (for food service and custodial workers) is 86% vaccinated, and the FDOSP union (for office support staff) is 90% vaccinated.

Representatives from the unions were not available for additional requests for comment Wednesday.