Harvard District 50 teachers protest amid contract negotiations

Teachers, other staff have been working without a contact since late August and the two sides remain apart in negotiations

Teachers and other school staff protested outside the Harvard School District 50 offices Wednesday evening as the district administration and teachers union continue to negotiate a new contract for teachers and other staff members.

Wearing red union shirts, Harvard Education Association members lined the sidewalk in front of the office ahead of the district’s school board meeting. They held signs in English and Spanish that read “We want a fair settlement.” Many cars driving by waved and honked in support.

“We are really hoping to get this wrapped up soon because it’s going to bring peace of mind to our employees, to our families, to our community, and so this just seemed like the next step in that process,” said the president of the union, Sara Weaver, who is also a teacher in the district.

The local union is made up of teachers and other district staff members, such as secretaries, clerks, aides, technology employees, maintenance staff and custodians. About 100 members attended last night’s protest.

Members then moved inside to attend the board meeting. After 20 minutes, the members walked out of the meeting as a sign of protest. School board members and Superintendent Corey Tafoya did not address the walkout during the meeting.

“Harvard District 50 Board of Education and the Harvard Education Association continue to meet to negotiate a successful collective bargaining agreement for its teachers and support staff,” the district and union said in a joint statement on Aug. 31, more than a month after a federal mediator had been brought in to assist.

The late August statement still is an accurate description of the district’s position despite Wednesday’s protest, district spokeswoman McKenzie Laurent said.

Weaver said attracting new staff members and retaining them is an import goal for the union. A fair salary increase is a part of that, as well as other items, such as preparation time for teachers and expectations for substitutes Weaver said should be uniform across the district.

She declined to go it to specifics about numbers and exact points of difference between the union and administration.

The two sides currently are meeting with a federal mediator, but Weaver said that has presented its own challenge because the mediator is on Zoom while the administration and union meet in person.

The possibility of a strike remains on the table, but Weaver said they’re trying to work through differences in every way they can.

“We have a crisis team in place, and everything is on the table from the action you see here tonight and onward. But that’s because we wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t preparing for all scenarios. But I can say with 100% certainty that we’re going to continue to bargain with the district in good faith and do what we can to reach a fair settlement as quickly as we can,” Weaver said.

According to the August statement, the union and administration have been meeting since April and the mediator began assisting in July.

The district’s fiscal 2021-22 budget was approved at Wednesday’s board meeting, which does assume a salary increase for all district employees. When combined with the cost of benefits, the district plans to spend $24.5 million on employees in the $55.3 million budget.

The district’s chief financial officer Mike Prombo said they are still facing some challenges for this year’s budget, including uncertainty about how much the district will exactly receive from the state.

Weaver said she doesn’t have ill feelings toward the district and emphasized the negotiations are about making sure the teachers and staff members in the union are treated fairly.

“We’re proud of our district, we love our students, we love our families, we love our community. Our district is doing a lot of very positive things and we want to keep and retain good people so we can continue to do that work. And that’s our focus,” Weaver said.

The administrations and union will next meet on Sept. 28 to try to come to an agreement.

Ben Szalinski

Ben Szalinski

Ben reports on local news in Harvard, Marengo, Huntley and Lake in the Hills along with the McHenry County Board. He graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield Public Affairs Reporting program in 2021. Ben is originally from Mundelein and enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with friends and family.