9/21/07

Union recruits kids to picket with striking teachers

Roughly 100 parents and students picketed alongside the Cahokia Federation of Teachers on Thursday, demanding the School Board negotiate a contract so classes will resume. Children chanted "we want to go to school" in front of the Cahokia (IL) School District office. A group of parents held an impromptu meeting with Human Resources Director Art Ryan.

Ryan said he understood their irritation. He said he tried to explain the board's financial situation. "I'm perfectly happy to let them share and vent their frustration," he said. "I thought they deserved that."

Parents said they were concerned that their children were losing valuable classroom time. Parents who work outside the home said it had been difficult and expensive to find last-minute child care. "For every day they're missing, there's something they could be learning," said parent Mary Willis. She praised Cahokia teachers and said they were much more loving and committed to students than her own teachers had been.

Parent Chris Heatherly said he, too, sided with the teachers, though he said he was glad an administrator had taken the time to speak with his group.

The five-day strike has put about 4,300 children out of school. Students said they were worried about preparing for state tests, forgetting what they'd already learned in classes the past six weeks, and missing sports and other extracurricular activities.

The undefeated high school football team will probably miss a game against Carbondale today, which could jeopardize opportunities for the playoffs.

Cyana Herron, 10, didn't bring most of her textbooks home because she didn't anticipate a strike. She's been trying to work on multiplication problems on her own.

"But it's hard," she said.

School employees were asking for a 3.5 percent increase until Sunday. Now they are asking for a 4 percent raise. The board has said it can't go higher than 2.25 percent, because of the district's $5.3 million debt.

Teacher salaries range from $36,102 to $66,173, without benefits. The average salary is about $57,000.

The union includes about 300 teachers and 200 service members.

(stltoday.com)

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