SD 124 talks end early Saturday, to resume Sunday; school board president says ‘progress’ made
BY STEVE METSCH and Casey Toner October 5, 2012 3:04PM
Teachers walk the picket line at Northeast School in Evergreen Park as the strike enters it's fouth day. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 8, 2012 11:48AM
Representatives of the Evergreen Park School District 124 Board and the teachers union met for 9 1/2 hours overnight, adjourning at 3:30 a.m. Saturday without reaching an agreement to end the teachers strike but saying that progress was made.
The next negotiating session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the same location, Central Junior High School, and will go until 3 p.m., according to board president Kathy Rohan. She said board members were willing to resume talks Saturday, but the union was unable to do so.
“We made progress on all issues (in the overnight meeting),” Rohan said, declining to elaborate.
The meeting, which began at 6 p.m. Friday, was the third straight night of negotiations, the second assisted by a federal mediator. The mediator will be present Sunday, Rohan said.
Deneen Pajeau, a field representative for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a member of the District 124 union’s negotiating team, said the Friday/Saturday session resulted in “movement” on some issues but she would not be specific. Asked if she thought children would be back in school Tuesday after the Columbus Day holiday, Pajeau said, “I wish I had a crystal ball.”
The teachers union has scheduled a community forum on the strike for 6 p.m. Monday at American Legion Post 854, 9701 Kedzie Ave. Union officials said it will serve as a platform for the union and the school board to provide information and answer questions about the negotiations, but Rohan said board members and district officials would not attend.
“The board feels that time would be better spent negotiating,” she said.
Pajeau said the forum did not signal union pessimism about reaching a settlement over the weekend.
“Not at all,” she said, adding the forum had been in the works for three days.
District 124 Supt. Robert Machak said Friday that he was unaware of the forum.
The teachers have been on strike since Tuesday. The two sides met Wednesday for almost nine hours and on Thursday with a federal mediator for 6 1/2 hours.
About 100 supporters gave the union bargaining team a send-off prior to the start of Friday’s meeting, including a new chant — “Hey, hey, ho, ho, it’s back to school we want to go.”
Moments earlier, union co-president Laura Anzelmo said she was “excited” about the session.
“We’re pumped up. After a day being with your friends and colleagues, we are energized,” she said.
Asked whether the strain of negotiations would affect the teachers’ working relationship with school administrators and the board, Anzelmo said, “We will work with them. This is a community; we live with these people. When this is over, you forgive and forget. They’re all good people, and we’re all good people.”
Among those at the rally was Ronald Spain, whose son Lukas attends first grade at Southeast School. Spain said Lukas misses his teacher and his friends and has even stopped requesting his favorite lunch, peanut butter and jelly.
“He doesn’t ask for it anymore because he’s not in school anymore,” Spain said.
By 6:45 p.m., the rally broke up while negotiations continued inside.
After Thursdays’ session ended about 11 p.m., each side charged the other with being reluctant to make concessions that could lead to a settlement. Rohan said Thursday night that the union hasn’t changed its salary demands since August, and the last two union offers were identical.
“It became clear that the union is not interested in moving toward a settlement or getting students back into the classroom,” she said.
Pajeau said the union gave the board an identical proposal in response to a board offer to eliminate a measure tying salary bonuses to student test scores, which the union has opposed. But that tie-in would only be dropped in the first year of the contract, she said.
“We felt that was not a big enough carrot to get us to move to a settlement,” Pajeau said.
The strike has kept about 1,800 students from their classes in four elementary schools and the junior high.
The board is offering pay raises in a four-year pact based on the Consumer Price Index, with bonuses based on student test scores. The teachers want raises of at least 3 percent a year in a three-year contract and strongly oppose basing bonuses on test scores.
Details of each side’s proposals can be found at www.d124.org.