Prospect Heights teachers reject school board's 'best and final offer'

PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- Negotiations and a Prospect Heights teachers' strike will continue after the Prospect Heights Education Association rejected the education board's ''best and final offer.''

The union's membership met for 90 minutes before rejecting the proposal, a PHEA news release said.

More than 1,500 students have missed six days of school since the strike began.

"It was a very emotional meeting," said Bob Miller, president of the PHEA. "Every PHEA member wants to get back to school with our students. However, the offer was inadequate in meeting our primary goals."

Teachers are fighting for higher pay. Union officials said their 150 members are some of the lowest-paid in the area, leading to a lower retention rate.

"Everybody wants to be back here. Everyone is negotiating in good faith, trying to find out what is that middle ground. The board really believes they have that offer on the table now," said Supt. Debbie Wilson, Prospect Heights School District 23.

The PHEA said in their rejection of the offer they took issue with the wage gap that still existed, the cap on potential earnings for advanced degrees, and committee work that takes teachers out of class time.

While the board's proposal didn't completely satisfy the union's salary expectations, it met them partway. The original three-year offer was extended to four years. Pay increases for teachers making less than $90,000 a year ranged from 3.75 percent to 3.25 percent, depending on the year.

The board has previously been unwilling to modify its original offer to teachers in a significant way, citing fiscal issues. The last time both sides met on Sunday, teachers rejected the offer of a two-week period to cool off.

For working parents, who have spent six school days trying to make childcare arrangements for their kids, a deal between both parties can't come soon enough.

"It's been hectic, arranging for him to be with me at work or staying at home, which didn't work out so well. He's bored, and I'm frustrated. All the mothers are frustrated," said Ruth Gelfand, a Prospect Heights parent.

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