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Evergreen Park District 124 teachers consider strike

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Supporters of teachers in School District 124 in Evergreen Park applaud for the staff that may go on strike. A large crowd of supporters attended the board meeting that was held Sept. 25 at Central Middle School.

By Joe Boyle

Teachers from the District 124 School District of Evergreen Park are considering going on strike over what they state are lower salaries than their contemporaries from other local districts.

Negotiations took place on Sept. 23. The District 124 negotiating team and the District 124 Board were scheduled to meet again this past Wednesday, Oct. 2. If a tentative agreement cannot be reached, the teachers union could go on strike on Thursday, Oct. 17. The union is negotiating for a new three-year contract.

A large crowd of supporters, including teachers, parents and residents, filled the gym at Central Middle School for the District 124 Board meeting on Sept. 25. Many teachers and some parents and residents spoke out in support of the teachers.

One resident and teacher said that the instructors are “working hard putting the needs of the children first. Let’s settle our differences. I implore you to provide a fair contract.”

Barbara Nelson, who has been a teacher in School District 124 for 24 years, said a raise is warranted for the instructors and added that the negotiations have dragged on way too long.

“We have been negotiating a contract since March,” Nelson said. “We have teachers who put in extra duty in an effort to make more money. The price of the pay for insurance cuts into most of my pay. I love my job and that’s why the time is now to act before we lose more teachers.”

Tracey Gleason, a technology teacher at Southeast Elementary School, said she has volunteered to work with the negotiating team and added that it has been an eye-opening experience.

“I was a parent long before I was a teacher,” she said. “Six years ago, I became a District 124 teacher. I don’t think the board realizes the decisions you are going to make. Without a pay scale comparative to other districts, we will eventually lose more teachers. Your outstanding staff deserves better.”

School District 124 is comprised of five schools serving kindergarten through fifth grade in each of the four quadrants of the village. The elementary schools are Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. All students enter Central Middle School beginning with the sixth grade.

Linda Blaeser, the lead union negotiator and a District 124 teacher, said they are concerned about the district’s paraprofessionals who are now required to be state certified.

“I got in when District 124 was the place to be,” Blaeser said. “But now teachers are leaving for higher salaries elsewhere. I respect the job of the school board. I’m glad there was some movement on Monday (Sept. 23). But salaries are still a sticking point. They deserve better. (The teachers) have husbands and wives who deserve a living wage. But we are heading in the right direction.”

The teachers union rejected an 11.5 percent salary increase offer on Sept. 23 for certified staff and increasing non-certified staff by 15 percent over three years, according to several teachers. Some teachers said they were at least encouraged that the District 124 Board made a counter offer.

Emotions were running high at the meeting as several teachers and parents ran over their three-minute allotted time to speak. Kim Leonard, the District 124 school board president, tried to rein in some of the speakers who went over the time limit as members of the audience yelled their support for the teachers.

A special education teacher said she is impressed by the dedication of the paraprofessionals.

“I share classrooms with these amazing paraprofessionals,” she said. “I have watched these women set up for the day and cut short their lunch because they have so much work to do.”

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