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No teachers contract deal yet in Evergreen Park SD 124

Updated: November 6, 2012 6:29AM



Negotiators in Evergreen Park School District 124 met for 6-1/2 hours Thursday but failed to reach agreement on a contract that would end the teachers strike that entered its fourth day on Friday.

A bargaining session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Central Junior High School with a federal mediator.

Talks began about 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the junior high, assisted by a mediator. District 124 board President Kathy Rohan emerged from the junior high shortly after 11 p.m.

“There’s no deal, unfortunately,” Rohan said. “There’s frustration on both sides. We both would like to see a settlement.

“I’m certain they would like to be in their classrooms as much as we would like to see them in their classrooms.”

She said the union hasn’t changed its salary demands since August, and the last two union offers Thursday night were identical.

“It became clear that the union is not interested in moving toward a settlement or getting students back into the classroom,” she said.

Deneen Pajeau, a field representative for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and member of the teachers union’s negotiating team, said the union gave the board an identical proposal in response to a board proposal to eliminate a measure tying salary bonuses to student test scores -- which the union has opposed -- but only in the first year of the contract.

“We felt that was not a big enough carrot to get us to move to a settlement,” Pajeau said.

Negotiators for both sides met Thursday in separate rooms, with the mediator going between them with proposals aimed at ending the strike that has kept about 1,800 students out of their classrooms since Tuesday morning.

The night ended, though, with two representatives from each side meeting together with the mediator and talking about salaries and health insurance, which Rohan called “a very good conversation.”

“We are hopeful tomorrow goes well,” she said.

Pajeau called it a “healthy discussion about how to get this done.”

“The way our conversation ended gave us a little more hope,” she said.

But did it bring them closer to a deal?

“Not necessarily,” Pajeau responded.

About 20 teachers and a couple of parents gathered outside the school late Thursday, awaiting word on the talks.

“They are in there selflessly giving time for our cause. The least we can do is sit outside and show our support,” said Jenny Craig, an eighth-grade science teacher at Central.

About 150 people rallied outside the junior high as negotiators entered the school Thursday afternoon. Maritza Rivera, music teacher at Northwest School, led teachers and supporters in a rendition of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

The two sides met for almost nine hours Wednesday night and into early Thursday before adjourning.

“We were called into the meeting by the board expecting a proposal, and they didn’t have one,” said Deneen Pajeau, a field representative for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and member of the teachers union’s negotiating team. “We gave a proposal to them, there was some back and forth, and at 1:30 a.m. we decided to stop and come back (Thursday).”

In a statement posted on the district’s website, district officials said the two sides on Wednesday night exchanged handwritten proposals and counterproposals dealing with health insurance plans.

District 124 Supt. Robert Machak, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said Thursday night there had been “some movement on insurance” Wednesday night.

Outside Central on Thursday, parent Jennifer Valdez held up a large sign made by her children, two of whom attend Southeast School and a third who’s at Central.

“You don’t put students first when you put teachers last,” the sign read. “Quality schools, quality teachers, quality community.”

Valdez said she’s not happy about the strike

“I think this could have been avoided,” she said. “The kids should be in school. They do miss school. They love their teachers. (Negotiators) should have met more often.”

Evergreen Park resident Ray Richter, a union plumber who has six kids in District 124 schools, has been impressed by the support of other unions.

“There were 15 carpenters who just showed up after work Wednesday to support the teachers. They don’t even have kids in the school district,” Richter said. “That’s what unions are about. They stick together.”

There were about 15 Chicago Public Schools teachers at Thursday’s rally, donning the red shirts they wore to show solidarity during their recent strike. One of the teachers, Jennifer Manz, said, “I’m glad we fought. We represented for every union in the United States and said, ‘Yes, you can stand up for your rights.’ ”

Asked about the seemingly endless negotiations, Richter seemed grateful he wasn’t directly involved.

“I give people credit for being in there. It’s a lose-lose situation because the board is going to have to give up something they don’t want to give up. They will have to come to a compromise, we would hope,” he said. “The teachers should not get everything they’re asking for. Nor should they expect it. But the board is not compromising. Why does the board say they’re doing the best for the community, if we all support the teachers?”

It’s unclear how far apart both sides are after the latest bargaining round. Neither side would comment on details of their negotiations when they emerged Thursday morning.

But heading into the latest bargaining, the school board was offering a four-year contract; the union wanted a three-year pact.

The board is offering pay raises based on the Consumer Price Index, with bonuses based on student test scores. The teachers want raises of at least 3 percent each year and staunchly oppose basing bonuses on test scores.

Details of each side’s proposals can be found at www.d124.org.



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