9/25/07

Teachers strike may force another football forfeit

Contract talks between Cahokia (IL) School District administrators and the union ended Monday night with no settlement although the two sides traded offers in an effort to settle a teachers' strike entering its seventh day.

The district offered a two-year contract with a 2 percent raise each year plus a 1.5 percent bonus each year. The bonus would not be counted in the employee's salary amount used to calculate raises.

"We feel like we're giving them every cent they asked for before they walked off the job," said school board attorney Tom Ysursa. "The problem with their offer is the compounding effect."

The union asked for a 3.25 percent raise each year in a three-year contract.

Also, Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman said the city would remove property from a tax increment finance district, resulting in an increase in funding to the school district.

Cahokia Federation of Teachers President Brent Murphy said this move would have paid for a 1 percent pay increase.

"For them to reject that out of hand is slap in the face. It's ludicrous," Murphy said.

Bergman said, "I don't believe the school board wants to come to an agreement. They have a plan and apparently it's to be punitive to the strikers."

No new talks have been scheduled but a public forum will be held Wednesday night.

The negotiating session Monday night lasted more than three hours.

School board members met at 5:45 p.m. behind closed doors to discuss their next move. At 7:30 p.m., a pair of federal mediators arrived to help the sides try to reach an agreement. About 300 parents and teachers stood outside the school board office, sometimes chanting slogans about wanting school to start, while the meetings went on.

Centreville Mayor Mark Jackson attended the negotiating sessions to try to help bridge the gap between administrators and workers.

"I don't know what I can do, but I'm here to do anything I can to help find a resolution," Jackson said. "These kids really need to be back in school."

Not only are the kids missing out on their education, Jackson said, but the need for working families to pay for day care to take care of their kids is putting a huge financial burden on families.

District 187 has 4,266 students. The Cahokia Federation of Teachers has 300 educators and 200 other workers in its membership.

Workers began the year without a contract while they and administrators waited for the state to work out its budget standoff. Eventually, a budget that included an additional $2.2 million in revenue for the Cahokia School District was passed.

Earlier this month, the administrators offered a one-year contract that included a 2.25 percent raise. That offer was shot down by Cahokia Federation of Teachers members with 97 percent of voters saying no. They said they took contracts in the past that included pay freezes and smaller-than-average raises to help the district get out of several million dollars of debt.

Union members counteroffered with a one-year deal that called for a 3.5 percent raise. That proposal was rejected unanimously by the school board. While the district got a boost in revenue this year, school board President Rich Sauget Jr. said, it is still deeply in debt and he fears giving the workers a large raise will put its finances in jeopardy in the future.

Six school days have been lost so far because of the labor problems. The current strike is the first in 32 years for District 187. The last work stoppage lasted for 18 days.

Cahokia High School's football team started the season at 4-0 and was forced to forfeit its game Friday against Carbondale because of the strike. Because of Illinois High School Association rules, the team could be forced to forfeit its second game if the strike isn't resolved by today. The team is looking for a volunteer certified coach to conduct practices.

(bnd.com)

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