By Terry Dean
Following through on its plan to ask members of its staff to consider accepting salary freezes as one way to address its structural deficit, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has formally made that request to the Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA).
District 97 would not confirm that such a request had been made via a letter from the superintendent or through discussions, but sources close to the school district said a pay freeze request has been made and the district is awaiting a response from the union.
Chris Jasculca, the district's communications director, provided Wednesday Journal with a statement from the superintendent.
"During these challenging economic times, we are working with all of our employees to identify ways we can save money without impacting the quality of the education we provide to the children of this community," Supt. Albert Robert said in the statement.
The statement went on to say that discussions with the district's bargaining units regarding agreements are confidential. A pay freeze for teachers would require the current contract—a five year deal signed in 2008 and ending in 2013—to be reopened and amended.
Wednesday Journal on Tuesday was also given a written statement from the district, provided by OPTA President Sue Tresselt: "All discussions related to our bargaining agreement with the district are confidential. However, we are committed to working with the board and administration to successfully navigate these challenging economic times, while maintaining the academic excellence that is the hallmark of our schools."
A salary freeze for administrators—at the central office and building principals and assistant principals—has already been proposed. In order to address its deficit, the district will run a $75 million working cash referendum—an increase of $61 for every $1,000 paid in property taxes—in next April's election. The school board will formally vote on that option in January, as well as proposed reductions that will occur for the 2011-2012 school year if the referendum does not pass. The district is looking to plug a roughly $6 million deficit to avoid cash reserves running out by 2014.