Prairie Hills teachers strike continues

December 7, 2009 They walked off the job Thursday over disagreements in pay.

No new negotiations are scheduled, but there is a school board meeting Monday night at Prairie Hills Junior High.

Teachers in Prairie-Hills District 144 chanted as they marched Thursday.

They're on strike - 210 of them - which means no school for 3,100 kindergarten through eighth grade students in Markham, Oak Forest, Hazel Crest and Country Club Hills.

"Given what they've offered, I get stuck taking home less money than I do right now," said Michelle Gallagher, District 144 teacher.

Teachers contend that the raises the board is offering would be devoured by increases in health care premiums. So the teachers want a two-year deal, with a six-and-a-half percent pay hike each year. The school board says it'll do three-and-three. Beyond that, forget it.

"Quite frankly, if they went higher, there'd be deficit spending. There'll probably be deficit spending at this level," said Gallagher.

Prairie Hills District 144 has never been financially robust. It has a sizable number of younger teachers, and some parents fear that better pay elsewhere might prompt a teacher exodus.

"I just got to believe there's a happy medium somewhere, and we're willing to work for it, so let's go for it," said Deborah Crosslin, District 144 teacher.

Crosslin has taught there for 34 years and lived through two previous strikes - a two weeker in 1976, and two-day walk-out in 1994. And this time?

"I don't know how it's gonna end. I just don't know," said Crosslin.

"There's no turning back. My eigth grade year is almost over and basketball is important to me now," said Tierra Sanders, Prairie Hills student.

Girls on the eighth grade Prairie Hills basketball team are pursuing a state title and feared that a strike would end their season. But because their tournament started before the job action began, they got to play Thursday.

"It's much bigger than tthe ball game. I just hope that soon an agreement is reached and that everybody's able to work things out and we can get them back in school," said Lashondra Lynch.

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