Zion-Benton HS teachers threaten to strike

January 4, 2012 9:05:19 PM PST
Nearly 300 teachers for Zion-Benton Township High School District 126 are ready to walk off the job.

Two thousand eight hundred students at two high schools -- Zion-Benton Township High and New Tech -- in north suburban Zion would be affected by a strike.

Teachers showed up at a mediation session Wednesday night in Gurnee armed with sleeping bags. The eleventh-hour meeting between District 126 and its teachers was aimed at avoiding a strike at the two high schools.

The district and teachers are divided over two issues: health care benefits and salary.

The district is offering a 4-percent raise the first year, followed by 3-percent raises in the second and third years. The teachers are willing to take less money -- a 2.75-percent increase the first year, followed by 3-percent pay raises in the second and third year. But there's a reason. The district wants to change the salary structure.

"We believe their salary structural changes will actually harm the quality of education for the future of our students," said Corinne McGue, Zion-Benton Federation of Teachers president and English teacher.

"In these dire financial times, that's a very fair, significant package for public employees," said Tony Ficarellli, school district lawyer and chief negotiator.

The salary schedule currently has 15 steps, with increments of 4.35 percent. Teachers would like to preserve that, but the district wants additional steps, with smaller percentage step increments.

The president of the teachers union has used the word 'snow day' to soften the blow for students instead of the word 'strike.'

"They know it's a strike. When we say snow day, we're asking them to think of what they would do if it were indeed a snow day," said McGue.

"They know that it's not a snow day. But again, just like the community, the school board wants our students to be in school," said Justin Stried, school board member.

In the meantime, parents are anxious and some students would rather be in school.

"I don't want to see it. I don't want to see the kids having to suffer for it," said Diane Thomas, parent.

"I'm thinking, is this going to affect my graduation, is this going to affect prom, anything like that," said Mike Delarosa, Zion-Benton senior.

District 126 Website

State of Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board: www2.illinois.gov/elrb/Pages/FinalOffers.aspx