District 94 teachers, board remain far apart on salary, benefits


West Chicago High School District 94 teachers say despite minimum progress in Wednesday night's contract talks with the school board, they'll try again on Monday.

After nearly two years of talks, the two sides remain far apart on salaries, health benefits and other key issues that led the union first to declare an impasse and then last week to file a 10-day notice of its intent to strike, allowing the 194 teachers to walk off the job as early as Monday.

But while the strike threat looms, Illinois Education Association spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said Thursday no such date has been set.

Instead, Shanahan said, the two sides will meet one more time, at 5 p.m. Monday, after a candlelight vigil outside the district headquarters.

Union President Brad Larson said teachers are expecting to see a salary structure funding plan from the board on Monday.

"The board of education has agreed, in principle, to basing a new salary structure on a salary schedule, and we view that as some progress," Larson said. "The question we have is whether the board of education will fund that salary schedule to a level that will be adequate to hire and retain high-quality teachers over the long term."

School board President Gary Saake said teachers brought a nearly identical proposal to Wednesday's bargaining session as they've brought to previous sessions.

"We've agreed to meet with them any and all days, but they don't want to meet again until Monday," he said. "The bottom line is, this thing is going to get worked out eventually and when it does, it's going to be at a bargaining table. So we may as well be at the table."

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In the meantime, the union announced late Thursday that the West Chicago High School Teachers' Association is now "working to terms," which means all members will work only during paid hours on certain days of the week. Teachers will arrive at school no earlier than 7:30 a.m. and leave immediately at 3:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The only members exempt from this action are those who have paid assignments before 7:30 a.m. and after 3:10 p.m.

"Our students always come first, but we are tired of the board of education putting teachers, and the students we care about, last," Larson said in a written statement. "We are through working extra hours without being paid. Until the board appropriately recognizes the hard work of our teachers and what we do for our students, we are going to give the district exactly what it's paying for."

"This is not about money," Larson said. "We know the district has the money to meet our requests without raising taxes. This is clearly an attempt to divide our membership and break up our union. We won't stand for it."

Nearly 2,100 students could be left out of classes should teachers strike for the first time since 1984. The district is making arrangements with park districts and libraries in Carol Stream, Winfield and West Chicago to offer programming in the event teachers walk picket lines.

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