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updated: 11/9/2012 8:41 PM

Union president 'encouraged' by scheduled negotiation

Geneva union, district to talk Sunday

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  • There will be no school at Geneva High School and all other district schools on Monday. The teachers union announced Friday morning it would go out on strike Monday.

       There will be no school at Geneva High School and all other district schools on Monday. The teachers union announced Friday morning it would go out on strike Monday.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

There may be hope yet that a teachers strike in Geneva will be avoided.

Although the Geneva Education Association on Friday morning announced a strike to begin Monday, it later agreed to meet with Geneva school board negotiators on Sunday.

The two sides met for about 10 hours Thursday night.

"We're just encouraged that they did agree to meet with us on the weekend," GEA President Carol Young said.

Initially, the two sides were not scheduled to meet until Tuesday, which Young had criticized in a prepared statement announcing the strike. Geneva school board President Mark Grosso then offered to meet Sunday.

The federal mediator they have been using was not available for a Monday meeting due to the federal Veterans Day holiday. Young said she did not know if the mediator will attend Sunday's session.

Friday afternoon, the school board posted its latest offer on the district website, www.geneva304.org.

Young said the union might post its latest offer on its website, www.gea4students.org, but that she first had to discuss doing so with other members of the union's negotiating team.

Grosso said the board was puzzled that the union had decided to strike, because the two sides "had come to agreement on all substantial issues relating to the first year of the new contract.

"With the current school year resolved, the board of education does not understand the GEA's urgency to strike, as the union is effectively walking out over issues that would not take effect until the 2013-2014 school year," he said.

But Young said that wasn't exactly correct, because the contract "is a package deal"; they were willing to agree to a freeze in the first year in exchange for increases in the second and third year "that kind of made up for that."

"We believe it (a strike) to be the only thing we can do to advance the cause of fairness," she said earlier in a prepared statement.

"I'm still hopeful (the walkout) can be avoided," Geneva Middle School North Principal Larry Bidlack said Friday after a Veterans Day presentation at the school.

"We've been focusing on teaching our kids during this (negotiation) period. And as stressful as this can be, I'm very proud of our students and teachers. ... They've been focusing on teaching."

News of the strike spread among parents hours before the district released a statement on the matter.

Parents picking up their children at Heartland Elementary School chatted over a report that a teacher had been seen removing their personal belongings from the school at 10 p.m. Thursday, before that negotiation session was over. Police were called, and they determined the person was authorized to be in the building.

Young said the district advised teachers in a letter Wednesday that they should consider taking their belongings home in the event of a strike. The district's lawyer did not respond immediately to explain why, but Young said she suspects it is so the district is not liable for damage to the items, especially since the buildings will remain open.

Jason LaCost of Geneva, who has two children at Heartland, said he sympathizes with the teachers, since his wife is a college instructor.

"I can totally understand their position," he said. He thinks Geneva schools are high-quality, "yet our teachers are not being adequately compensated." As for whether he agrees with the strike, the teachers "have been kind of put into this position," LaCost said.

School buildings will remain open if there is a strike, but attendance is not required and won't be taken. Supervised activities will be offered. Details were sent to parents in letters and emails Thursday afternoon.

• Daily Herald staff photographer Brian Hill contributed to this story.

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