Special-Ed teachers out on strike 'for the kids'

As she fielded phone calls and teacher questions at the Strike Headquarters on Tuesday, union president Laura Cuchra proudly sported a pin over her heart stating, "110 percent for the kids." About 120 of 133 teachers represented by the Grundy County (IL) Education Association, the union representing the county's special education teachers, picketed during the strike that began Tuesday and is carrying into at least today.

Teachers were picketing at Minooka and Morris high schools, the construction site of the new Minooka high school, Minooka Elementary and Intermediate schools, White Oak, Saratoga and Shabbona elementary schools in Morris, all Coal City schools, including a construction site, and the co-op office.

The teacher aides are joining the strike today after a mediation session did not end in settlement Tuesday. The teachers and aides plan to be at the schools again today and also at some of the county's smaller districts.

All of Grundy County schools are still in session and substitutes are filling in where possible, but some special education students had to stay home Tuesday and today, said Stan Eisenhammer, attorney for the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative. He said of the 1,900 special education students in the county, only about 10 percent of them had to stay home.

Students in the behavioral disorder, autism and other such programs were among those to stay home.

"We will provide them with what they need some way, some how," Eisenhammer said.

The co-op employs all of the county's special education teachers and aides in 12 districts. The teachers and aides are on strike because an agreement with the co-op on a new contract was not reached. Cuchra said the holdup is over salary increases, insurance and sick days. The aides are also struggling over these issues.

"We don't feel we are being met halfway," Cuchra said before the teachers' 4 p.m. wrap-up meeting Tuesday. The Strike Headquarters is in the upstairs of the American Legion in Morris.

The teachers and aides were urged to split from the Morris Grade School District union in 2006. They formed separate unions and negotiations with the teachers began in August. A mediator was brought in January. The association met Saturday and the members said what was offered "was not good enough," Cuchra said.

Cuchra said the co-op offered a 15.75 percent raise over three years, but the teachers asked for 16.75 percent. In addition she said both sides are bumping heads over the amount of sick days for long-term employees and insurance coverage for new teachers coming in next year.

Eisenhammer said the real issue is over the insurance. The co-op offered to continue paying 85 percent for single and family coverage of all its current teachers, but anyone starting in the 2008-09 school year would have to pay full price for family coverage until they become tenure, which is four years with the co-op.

"What we are doing is not unusual to do while dealing with rising costs of insurance," Eisenhammer said.

Cuchra said this could cause the co-op to lose teachers to different jobs with higher pay in order to pay for family coverage.


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