RANTOUL – Board members Thursday approved a three-year contract that gives 105 Rantoul City Schools teachers 4.75 percent raises this year.
Raises for the next two years of the contract will be 5.8 percent next year and 4.6 percent the following year, said Superintendent Bill Trankina.
Teachers overwhelmingly approved the contract at a meeting Monday.
Trankina said the negotiations, which started in July and were resolved before the month was out, were "thoughtfully resolved," a stark contrast with talks in 2003 that dragged on until the end of October and almost led to a strike. He said both sides learned from that experience.
Rantoul's high school district has called in a mediator to try to move stalled talks along, and teachers there recently took an intent-to-strike vote.
"I think there are times when individuals on both sides have to step back and evaluate the situation," Trankina said. "We did that when we came so close to a work action. Both sides reflected on it and decided that it wasn't in the best interest of the district. Discussions have been very collegial."
Administrators and support staff earlier in the year also received 4.75 percent wage increases.
Trankina said the opening day headcount Thursday was 1,466 students, about 100 fewer students than normal. But he said he expects those students to show up eventually.
"We'll have another surge after Labor Day," he said. "A lot of families visit relatives in Chicago, and schools there don't start until September."
The four elementaries opened for the first time Thursday as grade centers, with K-2 students in two of them and 3-5 students in two, complicating transportation patterns. But Trankina came up with a plan to color-code students by putting elastic wristbands on them indicating their destination, and he said it worked very well.
Eater Junior High School students' drink options will be healthier this year because soda has been removed from machines and fruit drinks, water, milk and other healthier options have been substituted, Trankina said. He also said food service personnel are buying whole-grain bread and buns, even though they're more expensive, to improve nutrition.
"I've wanted to see soda removed from Eater for a long time," said board member Saundra Uhlott. "I think there will be a little less bouncing off the walls."