East St. Louis – Students in East St. Louis School District 189 stayed home beginning on Thursday of last week after the 400 union teachers rejected an inadequate contract offer.
Teachers voted down the offer Sept. 29 and gave the school district two days to come up with something better, but the district did not respond to the union’s request to meet.
About 6,000 students were out of school since Sept. 30 as teachers took to the pickets lines at all nine district schools.
Sharon Crockett, a retired teacher and president of Local 1220 of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the contract proposals were concessionary at a time when the district has been making positive steps since going under state control in 2012 and restoring financial stability.
“The district is insisting on proposals that would decrease the pay of new teachers and staff over their entire careers,” Crockett said. “Their demand would double the amount of time it would take for a new teacher to receive the same amount of pay included in the last contract.
“The district can’t afford to take another step backward. The administration’s unnecessary demands will only make it harder to bring quality teachers and staff to our community.”
About 200 students walked out of classes at East St. Louis Senior High School on Sept. 30 in support of their teachers.
Salaries have been frozen in the district for the past three years, and the proposal does include average salary increases of 2.6 percent over three years. But the number of years it takes for a teacher to reach the top pay level would be doubled from 11 to 22, and with step increases cut to 2 percent from 4 percent or more.
“We basically equate that to a career-long pay decrease,” said IFT representative Dave Comerford.
Superintendent Art Culver said he believed the teachers would like to vote again on the same offer, but Comerford noted that the rejection was by a wide margin.
The strike began to have effects on the community immediately, forcing some parents to take off from work to take care of their kids or to bring their kids along to work.
“We only want what is fair for teachers and best for our students and community,” Crockett said. “We’re ready to talk with the board at any time to help make that happen.”
The last strike in the district was for 24 days in 1997.