(UPDATE: The following story appeared in the April 19 Labor Tribune print edition. The following day, a new offer presented by the Alton School District was approved by 80 percent of the Alton Education Association, putting a stop to the impending strike. We'll provide additional details in an upcoming edition.)
By TIM ROWDEN
Alton, IL — The Alton Education Association (AEA) and the Alton School District have posted their final offers on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, the next step in contract negotiations as the union continues “marching toward strike.”
The union represents 710 of the district’s 770 staff members, including certified and noncertified staff. The district has about 6,400 students.
Both sides were scheduled to meet again at Labor Tribune press time in hopes of coming to a resolution. A previous offer from the district was rejected by 68 percent of AEA members in attendance on March 22.
LOWEST STARTING SALARIES IN AREA
Alton teachers have had to weather a salary freeze and other concessions over the past few years, AEA negotiating chair Jason Chapman said. First-year Alton teachers with a bachelor’s degree earn $35,148, which is lower than the state median of about $38,200, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
“We have some of the lowest starting salaries, outside of some rural districts, in our area,” Chapman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re fighting to see that salary schedule become competitive so that we can hire and retain teachers, which we’re having a hard time doing right now.”
The district’s last contract offer called $400 raises for certified staff in addition to a salary step increases for the next two years. Noncertified staff would have received a 40-cent-per-hour raise and no step movement for two years. The union asked for a one-year contract in which certified employees would get $800 raises plus a step on the salary scale, and noncertified employees would receive a 65-cent raise plus a salary step.
The district’s latest offer includes proposals for a one-year and two-year contract.
The situation in Alton is similar to what has forced teachers to take to the streets in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where districts have also struggled with a lack of state funding. (See related story: Children’s education takes a big hit in RTW states)
Alton Superintendent Mark Cappel told the Post-Distpatch he wants to pay teachers more, but the state’s consistent failure to pay the district everything it’s owed has made raises difficult. Illinois has shorted the district $12 million and missed $3 million in categorical payments to the district, Cappel said. The district had to borrow $10 million this year just to keep its doors open, he said.
“We do need to pay our teachers more. They are worth it, they’re worth anything we can possibly give them,” he said. “I hate throwing the state under the bus, but gosh darn, that’s the reason.”
Last month, Alton teachers voted to authorize a strike if a deal is not reached by an April 25 deadline.
“Informational pickets are happening at all schools,” Chapman said. “We’re marching toward that April 25 deadline.”