Evergreen Park teachers strike: No school for nearly 2,000 students; teachers picket

October 3, 2012 5:39:17 AM PDT
Classes were canceled Tuesday for almost 2,000 students in Evergreen Park District 124 because of a teachers strike.

About 150 Evergreen Park teachers and support staff began walking the picket lines in front of Evergreen Park elementary school Tuesday.

Negotiations failed Late Monday because of at least three issues: pay, benefits and teacher evaluations.

The Evergreen Park school district is offering educational activities for students at places like community centers. Parents can find more information on that at the district's website: www.d124.org.

Eileen Gorman, an art teacher with the school system for 25 years, became emotional when talking about the district's first-ever strike.

"This is very upsetting. We shouldn't be out here. We shoud be teaching," she told ABC7 Chicago. "You can't roll over and let them take everything from you without putting up a fight."

"The board has, in my mind, significantly raised its offer to the teachers and, again, what they are waiting for today is to hear back from the teachers," said Dr. Robert Machak, school district superintendent.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers union says an agreement could not be reached Monday because the school board wants to raise what teachers contribute to their health insurance plan.

As far as pay goes, the school board is offering a guaranteed 5.5-percent raise. Teachers want a guaranteed 9.6 percent raise over the three-year contract,

The board and teachers also disagree on a potential teacher evaluation plan, which would partially evaluate teachers based on students test scores.

"We all want to be held accountable," said Sherry Sabbath, a sixth grade teacher at Southwest Elementary. "When you tie it to an evaluation tool, the tool was designed in a way that 50 percent are going to meet their target."

Dave Comerford, a spokesperson for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, accused the school board of harsh tactics, saying the school administrators allegedly threatened to not make up days of missed school, if teachers went through with strike.

"Folks are basically being told that if you don't take this offer, we're going to make sure you don't get paid, but worse, we're going to make sure the kids aren't in school. And we're basically going to give away taxpayer dollars in state aid so that we can punish you. No one should stand for that," Comerford said.

"We did not threaten anything, but part of our final proposal was that missed days would not be made up," said Kathy Rohan, Evergreen Park school board president. "If all the days are automatically made up, the kids are losing, and the people walking out on their jobs are not because their final pay at end of year would not be affected."

Teachers also accuse the board of being greedy, saying it has a $16-million surplus in its budget. However, the school board members say that the extra money is for building repairs and future pension costs.

As the teachers picket, parents counted on some nice weather Tuesday to keep their kids busy as many played outside.

Megan Burke says she and her husband work opposite schedules, but there are a couple hours where she needs some child care coverage.

"As a parent, it is kind of frustrating because we don't know what is going on. I hope teachers get what they want and I hope everything gets settled soon," said Burke.

For other families, grandparents are pitching in.

"My daughter is working so I'm on duty, but he is a joy," said grandparent Barbara Wright of her grandson.

Other families are joining the picket line.

The Richters and their six children have spent the day off with their teachers.

"I took off work today to support the teachers. I'm a union man myself," said Ray Richter, parent.

All affected school buildings were closed during the strike Tuesday. There was no word on when negotiations would resume. Classes were canceled Wednesday, as well.

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