Teachers picket Dist. 211 meeting

 
 
  • Jason Spoor, left, vice president of the District 211 Northwest Suburban Teachers Union, high fives Jen Mertins of Fremd High School, one of 700 teachers and supporters picketing before a school board meeting Thursday at Palatine High School.

    Jason Spoor, left, vice president of the District 211 Northwest Suburban Teachers Union, high fives Jen Mertins of Fremd High School, one of 700 teachers and supporters picketing before a school board meeting Thursday at Palatine High School. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Published: 10/26/2007 12:14 AM

Under cloudy skies, more than 900 members of the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 teachers union assembled outside Palatine High School, as the threat of a strike loomed.

"Keep the signs in your trunk," union President John Braglia told the crowd. "This is not over tonight."

The union plans additional pickets next week after school in each of the district's buildings, union Vice President Jason Spoor said.

A strike could happen as early as Oct. 30.

More than 900 gathered to picket before Thursday night's board meeting, including teachers, friends and family members wanting the district to increase teachers' salaries for the 2007-08 school year.

Labor talks broke down in August, with the final 2.5 percent base salary increase from the district falling short of the union's 3.8 percent request, with a kicker payment for a 4.1 percent total raise.

The 2007-08 salaries don't include a base salary raise, though step increases for those who qualify could raise salaries depending on education and experience. District officials say they want to keep salaries in line with the rate of inflation, which is projected to be at 2.5 percent, though it has seen a recent bump.

Pickets held signs reading one of three phrases: "Fair increase = no strike," "Release our raises," and "Negotiation is your obligation; negotiate this year's increase." Union officials say 285 signs were made.

Braglia reiterated the union's position, saying teachers don't want a multiyear deal. He mentioned classroom sizes and increased contributions to health insurance as being problematic. He added that teachers, like administrators, also believe in responsible spending.

Braglia said the union put misplaced faith in the school board. His comments were greeted by a thunderous applause by the union.

Union officials said they made concessions when agreeing to a three-year deal in December 2005 and deserve to be rewarded. The district was in a financial shambles and required a tax-rate increase approved by voters to protect extracurricular activities and elective classes from being canceled.

Parents and students sat at the meeting trying to make sense of the two sides' positions. Schaumburg's Darren Lewis and his wife, Eunice, have a daughter in the district, and are happy with her education. They attended the meeting trying to get answers.

"We've got a daughter in the public school system, and she's doing great in school," Darren Lewis said. "I'd hate to interrupt her."

Three people, including Braglia, addressed the school board about the teachers' contract, which is set to expire in July. Board President Robert LeFevre read a prepared statement before the comments, an attempt to show school staff and taxpayers how much they are appreciated "during this challenging time."

"It is through the united efforts of our community and our school district that we are able to prepare 13,000 students to meet the demands of a changing world," LeFevre said.

A letter signed by LeFevre and Superintendent Roger Thornton, sent home with students Tuesday, gave parents an outline of how the district was preparing for a strike. The letter states a strike could start as early as Oct. 30.

"Though we regret sharing this news, we wish you to be as prepared as possible should the strike commence," the letter reads.

Additionally, a district-wide e-mail was sent this week, preparing staff for a potential strike.

Jerome Sara, who has a son who graduated in 2004 from Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, spoke in front of the board. The Rolling Meadows accountant teachers are asking for too much.

"You can't have the private sector receiving a 2 to 3 percent increase in compensation and have the public sector receiving something two to three times (more than) that," Sara said.

There are about 1,100 teachers in the union representing District 211, the state's largest high school district. Average teacher pay in District 211 -- $84,185, according to 2006 figures -- is among the highest in the Chicago region and the state. Starting teachers with bachelor's degrees earn about $44,000 in District 211, with high-end teachers with the most education and experience topping out at about $107,000. The union wants to be paid closer to salaries in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, whose instructors will earn 4.25 percent hikes this year.