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Evergreen Park teachers declare strike after talks fail to produce agreement

Monday, October 01, 2012

Evergreen Park District 124 teachers have declared a strike after school and union officials failed to reach an agreement late Monday night.

Teachers called the decision to walk out "gut wrenching."

Teachers union spokesman Dave Comerford told reporters the district's harsh tactics were illustrated when school negotiators threatened to not make up days missed due to a strike, even at the expense of state aide.

"This was not in the best interest of the kids," Comerford claimed after a five and a half hour negotiation session ended at 10:30 p.m.

School board president Kathy Rohan said health insurance is the issue they are farthest apart on. "The union has chosen to discontinue negotiations," Rohan said. "We don't want our children to miss any school whatsoever, that's why we came up in all three areas [salary, health instance and retirement]." She confirmed the board refused to make up any days lost to a strike.

No new negotiations are scheduled.

The strike, which is the first one in the history of the district, affects nearly 2,000 students in five different schools.

Evergreen Park parents have some options. A local library and some other organizations say they are working to fill the void and preparing to have child care and some lesson plans available. The district also is offering suggestions on its website: www.d124.org.

Earlier in the day, teachers said they were fighting to simply preserve their current pay and benefits. The school district, however, hoped to change the entire salary structure.

Over three years, the school board is offering a guaranteed 5.5 percent raise with the potential for raises to reach 10.5 percent depending on student performance. The teachers union wants raises guaranteed at least 9.6 percent over the course of the contract.

Tying teacher pay to student performance was also a huge issue in the Chicago teachers strike.

"Basically seeing all those teachers united, that was a very powerful message that was sent," said Marita Collins, Evergreen Park 6th grade teacher.

Feeding the flame of mistrust is that fact that the school district has a budget surplus of at least $15 million. The district wants to use that money for building repairs, new technology and as a backstop against future pension costs.

"My sense is not if but when local districts are going to be assessed a huge portion of those costs, and we need to be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers and this community," said Robert Machak, Evergreen Park District 124 superintendent, before talks broke down.

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