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Lake Forest High School open despite strike

Despite a strike, Lake Forest High School will open Monday to students by using a combination of substitute teachers, administrators and professional guest speakers.

Each student will be given a daily schedule with separate programming for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, according to an email sent to parents Sunday night by the District 115 Board of Education.

Buses will run as usual, and attendance will be taken during the mandatory school day.

The school plans to continue with the outside help until a contract is reached with teachers, who have been on strike since Sept. 12.

“We have done our homework about what constitutes a school day and anticipate that the day will count,” the board said.

Athletic practices will resume, and the board said it expects competition to start up again, pending approval by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). The district has added private security in addition to its regular and nighttime security staff. Lake Forest Police also will be available on campus as the district’s 1,718 students cross the picket line.

There are 150 teachers at the school.

The board said it is asking students to cross the picket line in response to community feedback, which it described as “emphatic” that school reopen.

“This school belongs to the community and its children,” the board said.

Lake Forest Education Association spokesman Chuck Gress said the union’s negotiating team will be at the administrative building at 9 a.m. Monday “in the hope that the BOE’s negotiating team will resume negotiations with us. Hopefully, we can find common ground, complete this process, and get our teachers and kids back where they belong, in the classroom together.”

The two sides did not reach an agreement Friday after more than seven hours of negotiations.

Both sides ratcheted up the rhetoric by day’s end. The school board issued two statements, one indicating members are obtaining legal advice on permanently replacing striking teachers, and another outlining the board’s own set of unfair labor practice allegations filed Friday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

The teachers union on Sept. 10 filed four unfair labor practices charges against District 115 board members, alleging a change in the school calendar to make Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week teachers institute days was a violation, among other issues.

“We deeply regret that we have had to authorize legal counsel to advise the board on the issue of permanent replacement workers,” the board statement issued Friday said.

“Each day the strike progresses, the adverse impact on our students increases,” School Board President Sharon Golan said. “The board’s primary goal remains the same — to serve our students.”

The mediator suspended discussions at 4:20 p.m. Friday when the Lake Forest Education Association had not submitted its last, best offer, according to the school board.

The union, however, said in its own statement that the LFEA submitted a written counterproposal that included financial concessions. At 4 p.m., the mediator informed the union there would be no response from the board. But LFEA members remained, hoping negotiations might continue, the statement said.

The school district reactivated teachers’ district email to deliver the message that they are welcome to come back to work on Monday.

“The board needs a commitment by 7 a.m. Monday from any teacher who intends to work on Monday,” the statement said.

Working through the mediator, the school board has offered to defer the two-tier salary schedule to a faculty and board committee to come to a consensus, and agreed to phase in an HMO insurance change that would require teachers to pay more out-of-pocket, according to a statement released by the school board.

While the union said it put another financial offer on the table, the board contends the union is still demanding salary increases of 5 percent to 6.5 percent a year. The board has rejected those terms and requested an undisclosed counter proposal, which the union declined.

The average teacher salary in District 115 is more than $100,000. But LFEA Spokesman Chuck Gress has said the average is inflated because 25 percent of the teachers will retire in the next four years and are at top of scale.

“Ninety-nine percent of the teachers have a master’s degree or higher,” he said.

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