You may have noticed the little green signs in many cars in the neighborhood that read “District 135 teachers are working without a contract”. This prompted me to start asking questions and fueled my inquiries as to why this is the case. What did I find? Not much more than the information I gleaned from the sign itself. Teachers that I know cannot say much and the administration and board members are not talking either.
Hundreds attended the school board meeting on December 12th. I was not sure what to expect as this was the first meeting I’ve ever attended. I would not say that I am an uninvolved citizen, but I tend to volunteer my time at the schools and not in the board rooms. The gym at Center School was packed with teachers and community members. People were standing for hours along the sides of the room and in the hallway because there were not enough seats to accommodate the number of people present. I had hoped to learn something about the current stalled contract negotiations by being there. That did not happen.
Many people addressed the crowd, but the most profound, in my opinion was a 17-year-old student from Carl Sandburg that was overcome with emotion while speaking of his admiration for the teachers in the district. He spoke of their dedication to their students and their immense influence they have had in shaping who he is today. He is currently participating in the student teaching program through Sandburg. I think there are many who would agree that our teachers are some of the best around. They go above and beyond when it comes to teaching our children. That is not in question. I fear that what we (via our elected board) are telling these valued assets to our community that we do not appreciate them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Upon returning home from the meeting, my husband asked for a recap of the evening. My response was not informative, to say the least. I’ve learned only that the teachers and community are frustrated. Due to the privacy of the negotiation process, no one was able to discuss contract related issues, other than the fact that there is not currently one in place.
I do understand why the negotiation is kept private, but disagree that at this point it should remain so. We, as parents and taxpayers have a right to know why this is still not resolved and what exactly the problem is. By having all of the information out in the open, it would, in my opinion, make both sides more accountable for their decisions and requests.
I did learn that a mediator has been brought in. Parents have asked me for my opinion on the matter and it is hard for me to really say anything without knowing what is stalling the negotiations. Are the teachers asking for anything unreasonable? Is the board asking anything unreasonable? What is the “normal” timeframe for contract negotiations? What is the hold up?? Who knows, no one will talk.
This is what I do know, the board and union were very close to finalizing the contract negotiations at one point. What happened? I just want answers. I do know that the union and the board are currently butting heads over the Melanie Walsh demotion. Could this be having an impact on the negotiations? I sure hope not. The overall consensus among many who spoke at the meeting was that the board is being unreasonable and some even referred to them as “bullies”. I cannot agree nor disagree as I do not know what exactly they are referring to.
As a parent and a taxpayer, I just want this to be over. There is no obvious reason that this (contract negotiation) cannot be settled. If there is a reason that is not so obvious, I wish the board would clue us in to the problems so that community that elected them can have their say in the matter.
There is now talk of striking in January. A source close to the negotiations has assured me that if this does occur, the schools will most likely remain open and staffed with substitutes for the duration of the strike. Not only will this compromise the education of our children, but it will take away the most essential element that makes our school district what it is; The teachers we know, appreciate and cherish. This is not acceptable. I hope it is only a rumor.
I hope the teachers know how much we appreciate everything they do for our children and I hope the board is, as board member Mary Bragg stated, “acting in good faith” when it comes to their contract negotiations.
We, the parents and taxpayers, are watching very closely and are praying for a quick and reasonable outcome for the sake of our children.
If you were unable to make it to the meeting and would like some insight, there is a great video of the meeting on the Patch site that is a must see and a very informative article from the Triblocal about the negotiations.