Teachers strike set in Evergreen Park SD 124
BY HANNAH KOHUT AND STEVE METSCH smetsch@southtownstar October 1, 2012 2:42PM
Updated: November 3, 2012 6:13AM
Some 1,800 students in Evergreen Park School District 124 won’t be in class Tuesday after negotiators were unable to reach a deal on a new teachers contract during 11th-hour negotiations Monday night.
Union officials emerged from behind closed doors at Central Junior High School around 10:35 p.m. after more than five hours of negotiations to announce that teachers and staff members would go ahead with their plans to walk off the job starting Tuesday morning.
Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, called the union’s decision to strike “gut-wrenching.” But he said they were spurred to take action after board negotiators said students in the district would not be allowed to make up any days lost to a teachers strike.
“We find it unconscionable that a board of education would not want students to be in a classroom every day possible,” Comerford said. “That has been the attitude of these bargaining sessions for months now. This is about a lack of respect,” he said.
“No teacher wants to do this, ... (but) this is all about punishing teachers and they won’t stand for it.”
Supt. Robert Machak did not return several calls seeking comment late Monday.
The two sides have been trying to hammer out a new deal since April. Two marathon sessions were held last week.
No new negotiations sessions have been set.
As Monday night’s session kicked off, more than 200 teachers and parents gave the union negotiating team a rousing cheer as they entered the talks. The group gathered on 95th Street and Sawyer Avenue chanting slogans and cheering whenever a passing motorist honked the horn.
Ray Richter, a parent of six children — all in district schools — was there with his wife and all six kids to support the teachers.
“With the money the school district has, they can afford to give the teachers a little,” Richter said.
Union members held signs reading “Quit stockpiling taxpayers’ money,” “We support our teachers” and “Honk for teachers.”
Tony Demma, a teacher at Southeast School and a member of the negotiating team, told the group, “The negotiating team will fight hard for a fair contract. You will never get what you deserve, only what you fight for.”
Even a student spoke to the crowd by megaphone. Cienna Valdez, 12, a seventh-grader at Central, said the teachers deserve more money because they are “the foundation of District 124,” to which the teachers all cheered.
Joey Santor, a physical education teacher at Southeast School, seemed grateful for the support.
“We’re not money-hungry. We’re just trying to maintain what we have,” he said. “I did not get into teaching thinking that I would drive a Lamborghini.
“Knowing they have a stockpile of $16 million is like a slap in the face,” he said, referring to the amount the district has in reserves.
Machak, though, has said all of that money (and more) is earmarked for physical improvements in the district.
Comerford earlier had vowed the talks would go late into the night if needed to settle the contract standoff, saying parents would have been satisfied to learn at the last minute that a settlement had been reached if it meant avoiding a strike.
But after talks broke off, he said the attitude of the board’s negotiators made continuing to talk pointless.
“There’s plenty of funding in there for other projects. We think a small portion of that money needs to go to the ones who teach kids. They’re asking for a minimal amount of that $16 million budget,” he said.
“This is about threatening these people. It’s not about the best financial interest for the district, or for the kids. That certainly wasn’t shown tonight. That’s why we’re on strike.”
Earlier Monday, at Southeast School, five parents all expected teachers to strike.
“I’m nervous about it. I’m on pins and needles,” Meghan Sebek said. “I’ll watch the Bears (Monday night), but this will be in the back of my mind. I wish they would get it resolved.”
Sebek supports the teachers because “to stay competitive, we need to pay them,” she said.
Sebek, who has a son in second grade, was “annoyed” that no negotiations took place over the weekend.
“I think that was absolutely ridiculous. I’m surprised they are meeting (Monday night) with the Bears on TV,” she said.
Amy Goggin, a mother of three who attend Southeast School, said her children previously attended nearby St. John Fisher Catholic School.
“I have to laugh. This is our first year in the public school system, and the teachers will be on strike. Welcome to the public schools,” she said.
Chris Quanstrum, who said a strike would not be a problem because he’s off all week, voiced support for the possible strike.
“Teachers should get paid what they’re worth. I think the elementary teachers are underpaid,” he said, adding he was disappointed the dispute wasn’t settled over the summer.
Ronald Spain, a member of Laborers Union Local 288, was even more adamant in his support.
“The teachers must go on strike to get what they want,” he said. “You’re damn right I support the teachers 100 percent. They do a good job teaching the children.”
Union members had said they would be walking picket lines outside of each of the five schools in the district by 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, Comerford said.
The strike will now leave many district families scrambling to find day care for their children. The Beverly Arts Center was among organizations offering to care for children during the strike, and the district had posted care options and lesson plans for each grade level on its website, www.d124.org/index_accesswork.html.