The Evergreen Park teachers union and Dist. 124 school board are scheduled for another bargaining session on Wednesday after failing to reach an agreement on a new teachers contract earlier this week.
Contract talks broke up after four-and-a-half hours of negotiations on Monday evening, prompting teachers to set an October 2 strike date. Both sides have been bargaining for a new teachers contract for five months.
Earlier this month the teachers union and school board released what was dubbed as their final offers.
Read both proposals.
Tony Demma, a speech language pathologist at Southeast Elementary School and member of the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers bargaining team issued a written statement on behalf of union members.
Demma said it was the union’s goal to reach a settlement on Monday and end its dispute with the school board.
“The union bargaining team offered some ideas to try and reach a contract settlement,” Demma said. “The school board didn’t like the union’s concept and an agreement could not be reached.”
The teachers union further asserted that the board made a new demand about student test scores in their final offer after five months of bargaining that had never been discussed.
According to the teachers union, the district “claimed for the first time” that a portion of the district’s $16 million surplus fund had been earmarked for “mysterious, unnamed projects.”
Dist. 124’s $16 million surplus is above the state recommended 25-percent fund balance. Demma called the district’s surplus “abnormally large.”
“We have made every effort to reach a resolution, but the board’s refusal to work with us has forced us to set a strike date of October 2,” Demma said. “We need the community to continue voicing their opinion to let the board know that they are tired of the games and they want the board to compromise to keep kids in school.”
The district has outlined its reasons for maintaining the $16 million surplus on its website. D124 Superintendent Dr. Robert Machak told Patch in a previous interview that some of the surplus would be used for building projects and hiring additional staff.
Funding for these projects and new hires would not be decided until after the Illinois General Assembly's fall veto session, when state lawmakers are expected to vote on ending the state's contribution to the state-run Teachers' Retirement Fund.
Machak called Demma’s statement “disappointing” and said he left Monday’s session with “an entirely different feeling than what was presented here for public consumption.”
Addressing the union’s contention that the district’s offer is not competitive because it does not attract nor retain quality teachers, Machak said he has recommended "25 quality candidates" to the school board for employment as teachers or paraprofessionals for the district’s five public elementary schools. Some of the candidates include teachers' that were previously laid off by the school district.
“As far as retention goes,” Machak said in an email, “teacher attrition since the end of last year has had much more to do with part-time employees being offered full-time employment, or certified teachers working as a paraprofessionals being offered full-time teaching positions, in other districts than it did with the poor compensation package being offered by D 124.”
The district superintendent said the teachers union’s demands have had less to do with working and building conditions and class size and more about compensation.
“The union voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, voted overwhelmingly to intend to strike, and then established a strike date of October 2 even before all scheduled negotiation meetings had taken place,” Machak said. “I have shared with union leadership on several occasions, most recently as this afternoon, my concern for the irreparable damage that a teacher-initiated strike will have on the children of this school district and on the Evergreen Park community.”
The teachers’ union has been distributing flyers to the community and started an online petition. Teachers are planning another rally on the front lawn of Central Junior High School at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday prior to the evening’s bargaining session. Parents and community members are encouraged to attend.