SYCAMORE – Nearly nine months of stalemate negotiations and threats of a teachers’ strike later, the Sycamore school board and teachers’ union approved a long-awaited five year labor contract.
The Sycamore Community Unit School District 427 school board voted, 5-0, to ratify the contract during its Tuesday meeting at the Sycamore High School auditorium. Immediately after the vote, school board president Jim Dombek said he appreciated the work of administration to get to an agreed upon contract and going through the negotiation process.
“I know you spent a lot of time, a lot of long nights and long days trying getting this to go forward,” Dombek said. “So thank you very much.”
Board vice president Steve Nelson and member Michael DeVito Jr., abstained from the vote on Tuesday. They both have spouses who work as teachers in the school district, according to district directory and DeKalb County property records.
Contract details haven’t been released yet publicly.
The contract approval had for months been held up on disagreements related to salaries for teachers amid the district’s history of financial constraints and wage freezes, district officials and union members previously said.
Lynnae Ihm, Sycamore Education Association union president and a special education teacher at West Elementary School, confirmed Tuesday the Sycamore Education Association voted to ratify the contract Feb. 15. She said the union and district now have 30 days to formalize the agreement in writing and have the union and school board presidents sign it.
Ihm said Tuesday the union’s main goals for the five year contract included base salary increases beginning during the 2022 to 2023 school year. Although the agreed upon scheduled salary increases are lower than previous ones, teachers will get retroactive pay increases on their current salaries based on their experience levels, she said.
Ihm said the union’s main goals were for the district to have a new salary schedule and implement the new salary schedule, and to have health insurance premiums low enough that they wouldn’t be negated by the increases.
“And we got all three,” Ihm said.
As negotiations continued to stall and the debate came into the public eye earlier this month, the teacher’s union filed their intent to strike Feb. 4, six days before a tentative agreement was reached with district administration.
Ihm said the union stuck together and remained unified throughout what she called the long negotiation process.
“And we’re glad we didn’t have to go to that next step,” Ihm said, referring to the strike. “I’m glad we got there.”
Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder said he was also pleased to help bring an end to the contract negotiation process. He said there were many public comments and other input from the community regarding the negotiations for the five-year contract.
“It created a lot of uncertainty,” Wilder said Tuesday.
Wilder confirmed the labor contract agreement won’t be made public until the written agreement is signed. He said he knows the public is eager to see the exact details of the agreement.
“We’ll get those out as soon as the final written agreement is approved,” Wilder said. " … But it takes time.”
Wilder said he was glad to bring that stability to the district and community at large.
“And we can start to look forward now,” Wilder said.
The labor contract ratification is a culmination of a tense February between the district and union and threats of a teachers’ strike. That was after months of stalled negotiations and weeks of a heavy union presence at school board meetings, including a rally and a vigil.
Both parties announced they reached a tentative labor contract agreement Feb. 11, one day after the most recent round of negotiations, mediated by a federal official from New York, took place for several hours Feb. 10.
The two parties began negotiating in May 2021. Since then, talks had been tense, with teachers working throughout the entire school year since July on an expired contract.
The labor talks were at the center of Sycamore community news for weeks. Signs around neighborhoods, on businesses and residential areas have popped up over town, with messages such as, “We support Sycamore teachers.”