Evergreen Park elementary school teachers overwhelming authorized their union's bargaining team to call a strike if a deal for a new three-year contract cannot be struck before the end of the month.
About 160 members of Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers, Local 943, filed into on Wednesday afternoon.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said that teachers rejected the latest D124 proposal on the bargaining table, and all but two voted to authorize a strike.
“Teachers see this as a last resort,” Comerford said on the front lawn of Central after the vote. “They’ve been very frustrated. This is the sixth time they have started school without a contract. It’s not a good trend or pattern, and doesn’t show a good level of collaboration when they simply can’t come to an agreement.”
Comerford said teachers aren’t asking for anything the district can’t afford, but could not site salary increases or other details because both sides were still working on their “final and best offers”
Calls to the school district office were not returned, but a statement on district's website regarding the last negotiating session indicated that both sides were still wide apart on salaray compensation, benefits and retirement pensions.
Both offers are expected to be posted to the Illinois Labor Education Board's website in accordance with state law within the next few days.
“Salary increases are minimal,” Comerford said. “Nobody is looking for a big raise here. We’re really not talking much more than a cost of living.”
Contract negotiations have been underway between the D124 school board and teachers’ union since April.
Audited annual yearly revenue statements for 2012 available on the D124 website show a $16 million amounting to about 75 percent of the district’s $23.8 million operating budget for five public schools.
Comerford blamed “overly conservative” budgeting which predicted shortfalls that never happened, causing the district to instead come out ahead at the end of the past five school years.
The Illinois State Board of Education requires districts to keep a minimum 25- percent fund balance of their annual operating budgets or face being placed on financial warning.
“This is an abnormally high surplus,” Comerford said. “The last five years have been some of the toughest economic times and yet they keep building the surplus. The district is still putting more money in the bank. The focus is not on maintaining quality jobs for teachers or quality education for students.”
There is a two-week cooling off period after the district and teachers’ final offers have been made. Teachers could walk out as early as Sept. 21.
“We’re willing to go to the table and bargain to get the deal done,” Tony Demma said, a speech language pathologist at Southeast Elementary School and member of the union local’s bargaining team. “Taking the strike vote is just our way of saying let’s get this done.”