West Chicago teachers strike, canceling classes in District 33

February 4, 2013 9:07:33 PM PST
Teachers in suburban West Chicago walked the snow-covered picket lines Monday after the teachers union and the District 33 school board failed to come to an agreement overnight.

That means about 4,000 students at several elementary schools and a middle school are affected as 284 teachers strike. The strike will keep the students out of class for at least one more day on Tuesday.

The board has plans for an interim instructional program at two schools, but it was not clear how long that would last.

The two sides have been talking for 16 months. On Sunday, an 11-hour negotiation session stretched into early Monday morning. The school board and teachers union have been unable to reach an agreement on salary and health care costs.

Both sides say they want to meet again to try to hammer out a deal, but they had not yet scheduled a time as of Monday night.

"It's extremely disheartening. Nobody wanted this. We all held out hope until midnight when we got the call that no agreement could be reached," said Toni Galan, teacher.

Galan and her peers gathered at the strike headquarters- based in an old, unheated West Chicago candy store.

"It's cold... It's not where we want to be. We want to be in the classrooms... We've given it every possibility to have the board come and meet us halfway. They're not compromising with us, and so, we're stuck," said Mary Catherine Kosmach, head union negotiator.

"We were prepared to do everything we could to avoid any disruptions for the kids today, so we are very disappointed about that," said Bridget Fors, teacher and negotiator.

Meanwhile, the school board says the district is facing reduced revenues because of state budget problems.

But teachers say school board negotiators handed them an ultimatum, then left at midnight without warning.

"We have offered a three percent raise every year of the contract for teachers who are on the salary schedule and the union's last official offer is about twice that," said Dave Barclay, school board negotiator.

Barclay added that accommodations have been made for some students during the strike.

The district is providing programming for pre-registered students in grades one through five at Gary Elementary School. Although no services are available for students in preschool, kindergarten or junior high, both West Chicago Park District and the West Chicago Public Library have said they will offer programs during the strike.

Parents have expressed mixed feelings on the strike.

"I sympathize a little bit with the teachers but I think they should of came to an agreement. They had a long time to work on it and I think they should have done it by now," said Cathy McGlynn, parent.

The ETAWC says big issues are salary and healthcare costs.