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Teachers strike set in Evergreen Park

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Updated: October 2, 2012 7:35AM

Class will not be in session Tuesday in Evergreen Park School District 124 after negotiators were unable to reach a contract deal during 11th-hour negotiations Monday night.

Negotiations between the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers and the District 124 board got under way about 5 p.m. Monday at Central Junior High School, and the union announced around 10:35 p.m. that it would proceed with the walkout.

Earlier, more than 200 teachers and parents gave the union negotiating team a rousing cheer as they entered the talks.

The group gathered on 95th Street and Sawyer Avenue chanting slogans and cheering whenever a passing motorist honked the horn.

Ray Richter, a parent of six children — all in district schools — was there with his wife and all six kids to support the teachers.

“With the money the school district has, they can afford to give the teachers a little,” Richter said.

Union members held signs reading “Quit stockpiling taxpayers’ money,” “We support our teachers” and “Honk for teachers.”

Tony Demma, a teacher at Southeast School and a member of the negotiating team, told the group, “The negotiating team will fight hard for a fair contract. You will never get what you deserve, only what you fight for.”

Even a student spoke to the crowd by megaphone. Cienna Valdez, 12, a seventh-grader at Central, said the teachers deserve more money because they are “the foundation of District 124,” to which the teachers all cheered.

Joey Santor, a physical education teacher at Southeast School, seemed grateful for the support.

“We’re not money-hungry. We’re just trying to maintain what we have,” he said. “I did not get into teaching thinking that I would drive a Lamborghini.

“Knowing they have a stockpile of $16 million is like a slap in the face,” he said, referring to the district’s savings fund.

Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, earlier had vowed the talks would go late into the night if needed to settle the contract standoff.

“We’ll do everything we can to try to settle this. I think parents would prefer we settle at 2 in the morning and be a little more inconvenienced. They’d rather us get that settlement” than go on strike, Comerford said.

Earlier Monday, at Southeast School, five parents interviewed by the SouthtownStar all expected teachers to strike.

“I’m nervous about it. I’m on pins and needles,” Meghan Sebek said. “I’ll watch the Bears tonight, but this will be in the back of my mind. I wish they would get it resolved.”

Sebek supports the teachers because “to stay competitive, we need to pay them,” she said.

Sebek, who has a son in second grade, was “annoyed” that no negotiations took place over the weekend.

“I think that was absolutely ridiculous. I’m surprised they are meeting tonight with the Bears on TV,” she said.

Amy Goggin, a mother of three who attend Southeast School, said she hopes talks go late into the night.

“I have to laugh. This is our first year in the public school system, and the teachers will be on strike. Welcome to the public schools,” she said.

Her children previously attended St. John Fisher.

Chris Quanstrum, who said a strike would not be a problem because he’s off all week, voiced support for the possible strike.

“Teachers should get paid what they’re worth. I think the elementary teachers are underpaid,” he said, adding he was disappointed the dispute wasn’t settled over the summer.

Ronald Spain, a member of Laborers Union Local 288, was even more adamant in his support.

“The teachers must go on strike to get what they want,” he said. “You’re damn right I support the teachers 100 percent. They do a good job teaching the children.”

Union members had said that if a deal couldn’t be reached they would be walking picket lines outside of each of the five schools in the district by 8:15 a.m., Comerford said.

Union representatives were hoping for long night because that would mean talks are progressing, said Deneen Pajeau, field services director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Pajeau recalled that last year, a marathon 23-1/2 hour negotiating session averted a teachers strike in Orland Park School District 135.

The two sides had not sat down since Wednesday. Both sides “are far apart,” Pajeau said.

A strike may have some families of the 1,800 students in the district scrambling for day care for their children.

Contract negotiations began in April. Two marathon sessions were held last week.

Tony Demma, a teacher at Southeast School and a member of the union’s negotiating team, said last week the teachers “absolutely do not want that (strike) ... we will do what we have to do to get this done.”

And union members last week voted 147 to 1 against accepting the school board’s latest contract offer.

Comerford said he has no gut feeling of what will happen.

“I just don’t know. It’s hard to get a feel for what is going on here,” Comerford said.

Parents can find care options and lesson plans for each grade level on the district’s website,

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