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updated: 11/5/2012 11:45 PM

Geneva residents urge firm stance on pay hike for teachers

Geneva residents urge board to be firm

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Scores of Geneva teachers again picketed before a Geneva school board meeting Monday, then streamed inside to attend the meeting.

But none spoke during the public comment portion of the special meeting. Only a half-dozen residents addressed the board, and none spoke in favor of giving teachers the raises and retirement enhancements being requested.

The school board has proposed a salary freeze for the first year of a three-year contract, including raises normally given for increased seniority.

After thanking Geneva Education Association President Carol Young for the way she has conducted herself, Geneva resident John McCormick urged the school board to stick to its guns, even if it means the teachers go out on strike.

"Do not negotiate. Let's hire replacement teachers. When they go on strike, that is their cause, love 'em for it, but they should be replaced," he said.

McCormick said he checked with the Kane County Regional Office of Education and found that it has 10,500 jobseekers in its files.

Board President Mark Grosso started the comment period with some of his own, explaining the board's thinking, the difficulty of the negotiations, and the board's "high regard" for the teachers.

"We find ourselves in a tough negotiation process. For board members here, this has been uncharted waters for us. We don't have any state or national organizations giving us direction, We don't have a playbook anybody has supplied us to use," Grosso said. He said the board would not tolerate any "bashing" of individual teachers at the meeting.

"The GEA appears indifferent to their victims," said Sandra Ellis, a member of the Geneva TaxFACTS watchdog group. She said a strike's impact would fall entirely on schoolchildren and their parents.

Retiree Win Church said he could empathize with the teachers, having picketed when he belonged to a labor union. But, "we have given you increases when the economy was good. We are not in a position to pay out ... what you are used to," he said.

The main purpose of the meeting was for the board to discuss how to respond to the union's latest offer. The board went into a closed-door session to do so. The two sides are to meet with a mediator at 4 p.m. today.

But before that, the board adopted a new policy, governing picketing and public protests at school district properties. Under the new policy, pickets and protesters are not allowed on district grounds, nor are they to block access to them. They can use public sidewalks in front of properties and public streets. Employees who violate the policy could be disciplined by the district, and be subject to criminal prosecution.

The union could strike as soon as Friday, which is an early dismissal day for students, as it is a teacher in-service day. The district intends to keep school buildings open to students, but not conduct classes, if there is a strike. It plans supervised, unspecified activities, and will provide lunch and bus service.

Teachers have been working under the terms of the old contract, which expired Aug. 15.

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