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Article updated: 10/31/2012 3:02 PM

Barrington teachers vote "overwhelmingly" to authorize strike

By Kimberly Pohl

Citing an unwillingness by the Barrington Unit District 220 school board to offer a fair agreement after eight months of bargaining, teachers Tuesday voted "overwhelmingly" to authorize a strike.

Board of education officials cautioned that no strike is imminent, however, saying they're optimistic the district will avoid what would be its first work stoppage by teachers in more than 30 years.

"We're hopeful that we're close to a resolution," District 220 board President Brian Battle said.

The district's nearly 700 teachers have been working under the previous three-year contract that expired Aug. 31. At issue, Battle said, are adjustments to salary, insurance coverage, benefits and certain working conditions. Neither side provided details due to a confidentiality agreement.

Barrington Education Association President Melanie Collins, who wouldn't disclose the percentage of teachers that authorized a strike, said the union decided to take a vote because talks have stalled.

"Progress seemed to be not being made," Collins said Wednesday. "It's almost November and we still don't have a contract."

Union members want a quality and fair contract, and to maintain the kind of quality school district that attracts and retains great teachers, Collins said.

By statute, the union still must go through a lengthy process before striking is possible. A federal mediator first would have to assist in negotiations. If that doesn't work, either side can declare an impasse and then both have seven days to submit their final offers and related cost to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.

The labor board then has seven days to post the offers and the public has another two weeks to view them, Battle said. A strike can then occur subject to the union providing a 10-day notice.

"I'm optimistic we can avoid it," Battle said. "That being said, I don't control that decision."

District 220 spokesman Jeff Arnett said teachers last went on strike in 1980. The walkout ended after two days. According to Daily Herald archives, the district narrowly avoided another strike three years later.

The board posted a statement on the District 220 website acknowledging the teachers' "difficult and emotional decision" given the "constructive and collaborative contract negotiations." The board will focus on fiscal responsibility and competitive compensation, it stated.

"We are again committed to balancing the budget on behalf of our constituents -- including our teachers -- despite economic uncertainties, unstable state revenues and an unclear legislative future," the statement reads.

Several upcoming negotiating sessions are scheduled starting Nov. 6.

District 220 isn't the only suburban school system facing labor unrest. Teacher unions in Grayslake Elementary District 46, Huntley Unit District 158, Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 and Geneva School District 304 each voted last month to authorize strikes, while teachers at North Shore Elementary District 112 in the Highland Park area and Lake Forest High School District 115 teachers hit the picket lines this fall.

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