Prospect Heights teacher's strike possible Wednesday

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Strike threat looms in Prospect Heights
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Talks continue into the night as the threat of a teacher?s strike in Prospect Heights looms.

PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- Talks continued into the night as the threat of a teacher's strike loomed in Prospect Heights. Students could be kept out of class beginning Wednesday morning if an agreement on a new contract is not reached.

The possible strike would affect about 1,500 students from pre-K to eighth grade. District 23 also draws students from Wheeling and Arlington Heights. The district said parents should check the District 23 website for updates after negotiations start.

There is no timeline as to when negotiators will break off talks overnight.

Administrators say if talks break down tonight and there is a strike, a robocall and email will go out to parents by about 5 a.m. If there is a strike it will be the first in the history of Prospect Heights District 23.

Union reps and members of the school board have been inside for the last four hours, working through a federal mediator. Both sides say they're committed to avoiding a strike, but time is running out. Teachers at four schools in the Chicago suburb could hit the picket lines tomorrow morning.

Teachers seeking a new contract formed an informational picket as the union's bargaining team arrived at the administrative building for critical talks at 6 p.m.

"We have teachers that have made a lot of sacrifices in the last couple of deals, and for that reason we're really hoping to work hard to get an agreement," said Dan Perillo, a member of the teacher's union bargaining team.

The Prospect Heights Education Association, which represents about 150 teachers, and District 23 school board are at odds a new contract agreement over the issue of salary, according to union president Bob Miller.

School board president Mari-Lynn Peters spoke to the press around 10:40 p.m. and offered details of the deal they offered to teachers Tuesday night. They are offering a three-year deal with a 3.25 percent raise for years one and two, and a 3 percent raise in year three. In that proposal, high-wage earners would receive a 1.75 percent raise in year one and a 1.5 percent raise in years two and three.

Peters said the union countered with 4.5 percent annual raises across the board for those three years, which is the same offer that was current at the start of this negotiation.

"We are very serious," said District 23 School Board President Mari-Lynn Peters. "We do not want the teachers to go on strike. No one wants that. We've never had a strike in this district before."

Teachers say their pay is lower than that of teachers in surrounding districts, but the school board says its offer is fair if you compare communities of similar tax base.

A possible strike would affect three elementary schools and one middle school. With the possibility of a strike looming, parents are feeling anxious.

"It doesn't matter about me taking care of them at home. It's just their school days. But if that's what it is, that's what it is," said Winnie Magaru.

In the case of a strike, plans are in the works for the Prospect Heights Park District and some neighboring park districts to offer all day programs for kids.

"We could accommodate up to 5th grade and there would be age appropriate activities that would be athletic or interests that would accommodate that difference in age," said Kathy Nowicki with the Prospect Heights Park District.

"With every negotiation, we're always hopeful," said union president Bob Miller. "There's an agreement somewhere. We just got to get to the point where we can get one done."