It was a full house as a portion of the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers negotiating team set out to answer questions from the community about the current state of contract talks and the reasons behind their walkout.
The forum was organized by the union with an impartial moderator and members of the school board were invited to attend. No district officials were in attendance, however negotiations between the rest of the union's team and board members continued throughout Monday evening and into the late hours of the night.
The board and union ended negotiations at 12:30 a.m. without an agreement. According to a statement from the union, the board offered no economic proposals and "nothing but minor language changes on retirement" was discussed during the nine-hour session.
Board officials said they will not be available to meet until Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
"This strike is the result of problems that have existed for over a decade," said Mariellen Newquist, co-president of union at Monday's forum. She recalled the "toxic" tenure of previous superintendent Diane Cody and said the current board is keeping that attitude alive.
Newquist, a special education teacher and longtime resident of Evergreen Park, repeatedly stressed the union's desire to return to their classrooms.
"We are fighting for what we feel we deserve and what our students deserve as well, in terms of a quality education in our classrooms," Newquist said.
Tony Demma, a speech pathologist and member of the negotiating committee, said that the last six contracts have resulted in teachers starting the school year without a new contract signed.
Talks first began last April and union members present said a strike was the absolute last option and was put off for as long as possible.
Dave Comerford, a spokesperson for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the union is willing to lock themselves in a room with the board until an agreement can be reached.
At the forum residents, parents and even retired staff members asked questions about everything from the necessity of a strike to the reasons why a large surplus might be warranted.
The hour long session was attended by several hundred Evergreen Park residents and kept a largely civil tone as union members fielded inquiries.
It was announced that if the strike was still in effect come Thursday, the union has organized a free student enrichment program for all district students at Jacob's Well Church Community. Morning and afternoon sessions of the kids club will be held and the program will be staffed by district educators.
The two sides are still at odds over salary, benefits, retirement and the length of the contract although they have moved closer together on the first three.
Read Patch's ongoing strike coverage:
- EP Teachers Strike Moves Into Second Week
- No Deal Reached During Sunday Bargaining Session
- No Deal After Marathon Session to End EP Teachers Strike
- EP Teachers Union Organizes Community Forum - UPDATE
- National Union President Walks D124 Picket Line Before Another Round of Talks
- What To Do With Your Kids During the Evergreen Park Teachers Strike
- EP Students Join Teachers on Picket Line
- D124 Plays Hardball With EP Teachers Union
- Strike On: EP Teachers Walk Picket Line
- Last Chance for EP Teachers and D124 to Avoid Strike
- Scenes of a Protest: EP Teachers Stage Noisy Rally on 95th Street
- Threat of EP Teachers Strike Looms
- EP Teachers Set Oct. 2 Strike Date
- No Agreement In D124 Contract Talks