Striking East St. Louis teachers get good response from community

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ON STRIKE: Debra Humphrey-Morgan (at right), coordinator of Career & Technical Education at East St. Louis Senior High School, walks a picket line in front of the school. She has been an educator about 25 years. – Belleville News-Democrat photo

East St. Louis – As their strike drags on, teachers in the East St. Louis School District report getting good support from the community.

Teachers made a new contract offer, but the school board turned it down without a new counter-offer. Negotiators met for eight hours but a mediation session ended after 30 minutes.

“The district can afford a proposal we made,” union negotiator Dave Comerford said Oct. 15. “We used the district’s own numbers to show how their future budget predictions don’t add up. In just one year from now, there is no way the district will be in financial trouble. They have a $30 million surplus.”

About 400 teachers and staff, members of East St. Louis Federation of Teachers Local 1220, have been on strike since Oct. 1 over a contract proposal that, among other things, would double the time a teacher needs to reach the top of the pay scale by increasing it from 11 steps to 22.

The proposal is intended to save the district about $10 million over 10 years – money that otherwise would go to the teachers. With the teachers out, about 6,000 students have been kept at home.

A group of six Local 1220 members who attended the Mother Jones Foundation’s annual dinner Oct. 11 in Springfield, IL, said the union remains strong and that the community has expressed its support for them.

“We’ve had great support from parents,” said one, Barbara Outten, a teacher at Avant School.

“They actually have come out and are supporting us, saying, ‘You work hard and you deserve it,’ or ‘You taught me and now you’re teaching my child.’ They realize what we’re doing is very important.”

Sherry Tolson of Dunbar School said the teachers have become closer since the strike began.

“Being on strike has given us a chance to get to know one another better because, being in the classroom, you don’t have much time to actually talk to your co-workers in the building,” she said.

“We’re getting to know each other, getting to know who we are and what kind of lives we have, and now we’re feeling more strongly about one another than we did before,” Tolson added. “It’s that willingness to fight for each other.”

The Illinois Federation of Tickets invited the group to attend the event in Springfield and provided tickets. The members said learning about the strength and grit of the great union organizer Mary Harris “Mother Jones” would help them as they returned to picket lines last week.

100 PERCENT STRONG

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EAST ST. LOUIS TEACHERS at the Mother Jones Dinner on Oct. 11 included (front, from left) Curtis Turpen of Lincoln Middle School, Dianne Turpen of Avant School, Shanell McDonald of Avant, Ingrid Nicholes of Annette Officer School, (back from left) Sherry Tolson of Dunbar School and Barbara Outten of Avant.

“We can tell you that we are 100 percent strong, we stand behind our president, and we’re in it for the long haul,” Outten said. “The longer that we’ve been out, the stronger that our solidarity’s become.”The teachers noted that they would rather be teaching than picketing.

“None of us want to be out of our classrooms,” Outten said. “What’s happening now is setting us all back. We work really hard to get those rhythms with our students and have our classroom management procedures in order.

“We would much rather be in our classrooms teaching, but we’re not going to go in there until we get what we need and what we deserve.

“Any time they take something and slash it the way he did, it’s disrespectful for all of us,” Outten said. “We’ve got to stand strong for what we deserve.”

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