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Striking Lake Forest teachers cheered, jeered

Lake Forest High School teachers walk picket line past their lawns chairs front school located 1285 N. McKinley Road McKinley

Lake Forest High School teachers walk the picket line past their lawns chairs in front of the school located at 1285 N. McKinley Road McKinley Road. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 12, 2012 1:31AM

LAKE FOREST — For the first time in school history, high school District 115 teachers walked the picket line in front of the school on McKinley Road on Wednesday morning, drawing jeers and cheers.

Some of the district’s 1,718 students, who come from Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Knollwood, drove past the picket line, honked their horns and gave “thumbs up” signs.

Residents who didn’t want to be identified felt teachers “don’t realize what a good thing they have.” One man riding a bicycle on the nearby North Shore Bike Path yelled: “Go back to work!”

The 150 teachers walked out because of a two-tier wage system union representatives said would reduce the quality of teachers that get hired and salary issues.

No negotiations are scheduled.

School officials are keeping the doors open for students who want tutoring or to attend other extracurricular activities like theater. But high school athletics have been placed on hold, with the school district promising to make up canceled contests.

Mollie Blahunka, 17, of Lake Bluff, brought some cookies to her teachers before crossing the picket line to go to rehearsal for the play “Wild Dust,” which runs Oct. 18 through Oct. 20. She is the student director and she said the teachers knew that she is committed.

“They understand,” she said and they were very appreciative of the chocolate chip and vegan oatmeal raisin cookies that she brought to the picket line Wednesday morning.

“I support my teachers and I would show that any way I could,” she said. “I would like to see this go back to normal, but the teachers should get a fair contract. But they are going to have compromise, too.”

Blahunka said it doesn’t look good for a short strike right now, but she is hoping it is settled before next week, which is homecoming. “If that gets canceled a lot of kids will be upset,” she said.

The two sides have had a mediator since last month, but talks broke down Tuesday night after the union made a wage proposal and there was no counter offer. According to the school board statement, the “union’s final proposal continued to request compensation increases more than double the Consumer Price Index .... The board is very disappointed.”

Chuck Gress, spokesman for the Lake Forest Education Association, said teachers, too, were disappointed.

“We were willing to stay all night and talk, but they dug in their heels,” he said, adding that the last contract was hammered out in an all-night session that ended at 5:30 a.m. a few years ago. Teachers voted 104-33 to go on strike.

The union has also filed unfair labor practice charges against District 115 for changing the school calendar, among other issues, that made Wednesday, Thursday and Friday teacher institute days.

Both sides went back to the negotiating table Tuesday night for the first time since Sept. 6. At 10 p.m., talks broke off and the teachers went on strike Wednesday morning with some 70 teachers manning the picket line in shifts.

Gress said the two-tier proposal would mean that a new hire would not reach the top of scale in 25 years like today’s teachers, but instead would take 45 years to “attain the same compensation.”

And while the school administration points out the average teacher salary in District 115 is more than $100,000, Gress says the fact that 25 percent of the teachers will retire in the next four years the average is higher because those teachers are at top of scale.

“Ninety-nine percent of the teachers have a master’s degree or higher,” he said. “The average teacher salary is very misleading.”

He said people can go to and see the side by side proposals.

“We want to get this over. It’s very painful. We could end this if the board would compromise,” said Gress. “They forced our hand and that’s why we are here.”

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