Next Evergreen Park SD 124 talks set for Monday
By Steve metsch firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2012 3:56PM
Lori Johnson, a teacher at Southeast School, joins other school district 124 staff at a rally held before contract negotiations tonight. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:59AM
The Beverly Arts Center may be open for Evergreen Park schoolchildren who find themselves without classes to attend if teachers go on strike Tuesday.
That’s the strike date set by the teachers seeking a new contract with Evergreen Park School District 124.
Union and district negotiators met for 51/2 hours Wednesday night in another bargaining session. They called it quits at 10:30 p.m. when an agreement could not be reached, said Deneen Pajeau, field services director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers,
Both sides agreed to meet at 5 p.m. Monday at Central Junior High School, 9400 S. Sawyer Ave.
“I hoped we would have reached an agreement (Wednesday) night, but both sides are still willing to talk. That’s a positive,” Pajeau said.
Asked why a meeting wasn’t set for a time before Monday, with the strike set the following day, Supt. Robert Machak said Monday was the earliest day both sides could meet.
“I don’t know why. People have plans.” he said.
Machak, who took the job July 1, said his first few months in office “have been interesting.”
“It’s frustrating in the sense that we’d like to be able to go back to focusing on teaching and learning. This, obviously, takes away from that. It’s frustrating the two sides can’t come together,” Machak said.
Machak joked that the Bears playing Dallas on Monday night “will be the impetus to settle this.”
In a serious note, he said, “There’s always hope if people are willing to sit down.”
Pajeau said the obstacles remain the same — salary, retirement plans and insurance.
“We’re still pretty far apart,” she said.
On Monday, the union will stage a rally outside Central starting at 4:15 p.m.
The teachers did the same before Wednesday’s session, as union members and their supporters rallied along 95th Street, with many passing drivers honking horns in support. Carrying signs and chanting, the teachers wore blue shirts in solidarity.
Pajeau said before the meeting that the union is committed to trying to reach an agreement.
Tony Demma, a teacher at Southeast School and a member of the union’s negotiating team, echoed that sentiment.
“We absolutely do not want that (strike),” Demma said. “We will do what we have to get this done.”
A session held Monday broke up after 41/2 hours with no agreement. On Tuesday, union members voted 147-1 against accepting the school board’s latest contract offer.
Machak said earlier Wednesday that he has asked if the arts center would be available for students during a strike.
Nora Ferstead, manager of the center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago, said Wednesday “there’s a possibility” the center would be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays for arts classes for District 124 students.
“We’re going to need a guarantee. We can’t pay (art) teachers to come if there are no students. We’d need a commitment of at least 20 students,” Ferstead said.
About 1,800 students from five schools would be affected by a strike.
Ferstead said the daily fee to attend art classes at the center would be $45 per child, and the kids would have bring their lunches.
Machak said a list of care and schooling options for parents will be posted Friday on the district’s website.
“I’ve got my curriculum people working on links, by grade level, for activities parents can do with their kids, a combination of activities and appropriate education websites they can download and print out. The other thing is we’ll have community resources that they can (use),” he said.
If teachers do walk out, Jennifer Sullivan, whose three sons attend Southeast School, will lean on family members to care for them because she and her husband work. After school Tuesday, she was at the Evergreen Park Public Library, helping her third grader Deaglan, 8, work on homework.
A former preschool teacher, Sullivan sides with the teachers.
“I know how much work goes into being a teacher. It never ends,” she said, adding that teachers “need the resources” to reach children. “I have no problem raising my taxes to pay teachers. I couldn’t home-school them, they would drive me nuts. Someone who is trained to do it needs to do it. For our teachers to not be paid as much as they should be for their work is a crime.”
Taking a break from vocabulary homework, Deaglan added, “I’d miss math, gym, a lot of stuff.”
Evergreen Park Library director Nicki Seidl said Machak called to see if the library could offer programs for children during a strike.
“It’s hard to arrange formal programs because we don’t know when the people are going to come in,” she said, but the library will prepare some crafts tables for drop-ins. “We had a trial run because the Chicago Public Schools were out for a week. We had a lot of parents here with children. They felt that if they couldn’t be in school, this was a good place to be.”
A strike would force Pete Babic, the parent of a first grader at Southwest School, to send his daughter to Elgin to stay with his parents because he and his wife can’t take off from work.
“I’m really hoping they can resolve the issues, A strike would mess up the kids. My daughter loves school and her teacher,” Babic said.
He’s pulling for the teachers because the union wants more pay for aides, whom he said are needed.
“A strike is not something I look forward to as a parent. Overall, our teachers are excellent,” Babic said.
Dennis Duffy, director of the Evergreen Park Recreation Department, said his department won’t be able to offer daytime options if the teachers strike. The community center is not open to students during the day because the department has classes that meet there, including some for senior citizens, he said.
“There really isn’t that much room,” Duffy said.
Recreation department classes held on evenings in school buildings will go on as planned in the event of a strike, Machak said.
“The community owns these buildings. I don’t want to penalize them any more then they will be with a teacher walkout,” he said.