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Geneva hoping Sunday talks will head off teacher strike

Genevschools are session.  |  Steve Lord ~ Sun-Times Media

Geneva schools are in session. | Steve Lord ~ Sun-Times Media

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Spreading word of strike

If Geneva teachers do call a strike, the School District intends to contact students’ families through e-mails, the 304Connects system and by posting the information on its website,

Updated: December 12, 2012 6:31AM

GENEVA – While a last-minute negotiating session on Sunday could head off a planned teachers strike, students and parents in the Geneva School District are bracing for the worst.

“I hate feeling this helpless,” one parent said. “I don’t want my children’s education to be interrupted by a strike, but I have no control over the situation. It’s up to the School Board and the teachers.”

Teachers announced Friday that they would be out of class and manning the picket lines on Monday morning. The announcement came after a 10-hour negotiating session went into late Thursday night.

Parents and students alike are trying to figure out whether to plan for a few days off school or for an extended strike that could cut into winter sports seasons and compromise students’ performance on standardized tests.

“I’m taking European history AP, and the AP test date isn’t going to change because we have a strike,” said Geneva High School sophomore Tyler Rasmussen. “It’s going to make a tight study schedule even tighter. If the strike lasts a week or longer, we may have to form a study group to prepare for the test by ourselves.”

“I wish the teachers would have given us some advance warning so we could be prepared to study on our own,” said sophomore AP student Gabriella May.

Parents of athletes are worried that their children could get cheated out of participating in their sports.

“I’m frustrated,” said Mark Ruscitti, whose freshman daughter and fourth-grade son just moved from Geneva’s St. Peter Catholic School to Geneva pubic schools this year.

“I’m frustrated that the teachers would start the school year and then strike rather than striking in August. I’m frustrated because the girls basketball team can’t practice during a strike, so they’ll be behind when the season starts because all the other teams in the conference will have been practicing. If the strike goes on long enough, my daughter’s team might not be able to play at all.”

While school buildings will stay open and non-union staff will supervise students in age-appropriate activities during a strike, students and parents say it won’t provide a valuable educational experience.

Denise Reich, who takes care of her two nieces and nephew before and after school, said she’d rather keep them home if a strike happens. “It really doesn’t seem worth it to bring them here without the teachers being here,” she said. “It’s up to their parents, of course, but I’d feel better doing educational things with them at home.”

“I don’t think a lot of high school students will bother going to school during the strike,” said sophomore Josh Morgan. “I did get a hunk of homework that’s due Wednesday, and we have tests scheduled that are going to get pushed back, so I’d rather stay home and study for them.”

Several students also said Friday that not all teachers seem to support the strike.

“A lot of my teachers don’t like the idea,” said freshman Lizzie Ruscitti. “One teacher told our class that the whole concept of a strike would be bad for the whole community.”

“My teacher said she didn’t know if she was going on strike, but then we got an e-mail saying that all the teachers were striking,” reported Williamsburg Elementary School third-grader Ava Herrington. “She was sad and didn’t want to say much about it. I don’t really want my teacher to go on strike because I’m afraid she won’t come back.”

The School Board and Geneva Education Association representatives scheduled a negotiation session for Sunday, after the teachers announced their plans to strike on Monday.

The board’s current contract offer includes a salary freeze for most teachers this school year, except for 36 teachers who expect to earn lane advances for coursework that district officials had already approved and 57 teachers who have filed their intent to retire within three years.

The GEA has agreed to the pay freeze, said GEA President Carol Young.

Next school year teachers would get a 1.95 percent step increase and would be allowed to earn one lane advancement at an unspecified percentage increase. In 2014-15, teachers would get a 2.75 percent step increase and could earn one lane advancement. The offer also stipulates that both sides would form a joint committee to discuss changing teachers’ pay structure.

The board’s offer also includes a 6 percent raise this year and a 3 percent raise next year for retiring teachers as part of the process of eliminating the early retirement option, which would expire in 2015.

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