Highland teachers win raises, end strike

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TEACHERS’ STRIKE: Highland High English teacher Danielle Case (left) and Spanish teacher Karen Twyford walking a picket line last week in Highland, Il. Teachers with the Highland Education Association reached agreement with the district late last week. – Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo

Highland, IL After a six-day strike, teachers in the Highland Community School District went back to class Sept. 19, having approved a new three-year contract that includes modest raises.

The 3,000-student district had offered only a stipend and a one-year deal but improved its offer in negotiations with the teachers on earlier in the week.

The teachers, members of the Highland Education Association, went on strike Sept. 11. The vote to end the strike was 150-3.

‘A GOOD SETTLEMENT’

The new contract is based on compromises that reflect the district’s difficult financial situation, caused by reduced state funding.

As in the past three years, there is no general increase in the salary schedule, so the starting salary remains $35,318.

However, teachers will continue to receive modest “step” increases reflecting their increasing experience, typically about 2 percent a year. When steps are skipped in a given year, teachers not only lose the raise for that year, but also for all succeeding years.

The total salary increase over three years will average about 4.3 percent. Insurance and retirement benefits are unchanged. Teachers also agreed to contribute to a fund for retired teachers’ health insurance.

Teachers also made an important concession to maintain the integrity of the school year. Instead of letting the district simply eliminate six days of classes, the teachers agreed to give up six personal days off to make up for the strike days.

“We got a good settlement,” Marcus Albrecht, regional director for the Illinois Education Association said. “The teachers were very pleased. They got all their steps for the next three years. It was a hard-won achievement. We came a long way with this one.”

STRONG COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Teachers on picket lines around the district received strong support from the community, despite some concern about the high school’s high-ranking football team having to miss games. In the end, the team forfeited only one game, scheduled for Sept. 12.

Albrecht noted that the strike actually spun off numerous positive developments in which the community and the union pulled together.

Some churches and the union provided day care, and the teachers also provided lunches to needy children who were missing out on their usual school lunches.

“This is a group that is strongly committed to the school district and the teaching profession,” he said.

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