Evergreen Park SD 124 strike enters seventh day
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com October 10, 2012 2:56PM
Laura Anzelmo, co-president of the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers, waves to supporters as she and members of the negotiating team arrive for talks in hopes of reaching an agreement in the SD 124 strike. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2012 4:18PM
A 10-hour bargaining session between the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers and the school board in District 124 broke up early Thursday without an agreement to end the teachers strike, now in its seventh day.
Wednesday’s meeting at Central Junior High School, the sixth since the strike began Oct. 2, started at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and ended at 2:30 a.m. The two sides plan to reconvene at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the school.
Board president Kathy Rohan said the latest session resulted in some major progress regarding retirement benefits. The two sides agreed that if the Legislature makes changes to teachers’ pension benefits, either side can reopen the contract to address those changes, she said.
“We’re getting closer on the financial issues,” Rohan said.
But Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the pension concern was a “minor issue” and that little progress was made on more important ones such as salaries and the board’s insistence that the district not make up the lost days from the strike. Comerford said the latter remains the major obstacle to an agreement because the union believes strongly that the lost instructional time be restored.
“The board ended the meeting at 2:30 a.m., but we were willing to stay as long as it took,” he said.
The strike has kept about 1,800 students out of class at five schools. About 150 teachers and 60 support staff walked out after negotiations that began in April failed to achieve a new contract. The prior contract expired June 30.
As the union negotiating team prepared to walk into the school for Wednesday’s session, union co-president Mariellen Newquist rallied the troops. She blamed the school board for failing to meet with the union on Tuesday, prompting a loud chant of “Shame on them.”
Newquist thanked the parents for their support throughout the strike.
“We are one day longer; don’t ever forget. We are one day stronger,” Newquist said. “We are going to do our best to get this contract settled.”
Joey Santor, a physical education teacher at Southeast Elementary School, said, “I have confidence in our team, but about the board, I don’t know. I’ve never been in a strike before. ... I think we’re (strikers) getting stronger and stronger.”
A longtime teacher agreed with Santor. Lana Madsen said the teachers “are close-knit. We are true friends, and the friendships have been getting stronger.”
Madsen teaches seventh-grade literature and language arts at Central. This is her 34th and final year of teaching.
“Most of all, I miss the kids,” Madsen said of losing time to the strike. “This is my last year, so it’s breaking my heart to see it end this way. I just want to get back in the classroom with my kids and the books.”
About 6 p.m., a group of parents gathered in front of Central and told reporters that the school board is keeping them in the dark about negotiations.
Amy Hadad, the mother of three students, has been using vacation time and personal days to care for her children. She said she can’t afford to take them to the Beverly Arts Center, which charges $40 per day per child for an art camp. Hadad said she has two vacation days left and doesn’t know what she’ll do after that.
For parents such as Charlie Haun, the sooner the strike ends, the better. He and his wife have two daughters. The youngest, 11-year-old Isabelle, is a sixth grader at Northeast School and has been spending her time off at home or the homes of friends.
“We’re one of the fortunate families because my wife works from home,” said Haun, who supports the teachers but has grown weary of the strike. “We’ve been sick of it for a while. I think there’s enough blame to go around.”
He said parents have been left in the dark regarding the issues.
“I asked them what the real problem is. Is it the retirement plan? Health insurance? I didn’t get any answers. The problem is the parents don’t know what’s going on,” Haun said.
While he supports the teachers, he’s not happy about them circulating fliers that have the board members’ phone numbers.
“They are all part-time people. They live in town. They have families,” Haun said of board members. “I’ve heard that one (board member) was getting calls at 5 a.m. In my opinion, sending them emails is one thing. But distributing their home phone numbers crosses the line.”