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Article updated: 11/21/2012 5:52 AM

Dist. 300 teachers file strike notice, final offers posted

By Larissa Chinwah

Teachers in Community Unit District 300 have filed an intent to strike notice and now have 14 days before a strike can take place.

The earliest a strike could occur is Dec. 3.

Mike Williamson, communications chairman for the teachers union, LEAD 300, said the notice is to ensure the union fulfills the necessary deadlines in order to strike.

"It is about paperwork and making sure we meet the timelines," Williamson said. "It is our intent to continue to bargain in good faith, and we are bargaining as we speak. There are laws ... that require us to meet deadlines if we feel that we need to use a strike as a tool in encouraging the district to work through bargaining."

District 300 board spokesman Joe Stevens said the notice did not surprise the district.

"They keep telling us it is another step in the process," Stevens said. "It is a difficult step for all of us, but we understand ... We are not making any significant progress."

In a letter to district employees, parents and the community, Superintendent Michael Bregy said the district is prepared to close all but three schools if teachers take to the picket line.

"In the event of a strike by the teachers union, the board of education and District 300 administration have decided to close the majority of school buildings and completely cancel all school-sponsored events and activities," Bregy wrote in the letter. "This means that beginning the first day of a teachers strike, there will be no transportation (including parochial school transportation), no classes, and no practices or competitions; in addition, all after-school community activities and programs at schools, programs, or other centers will also be canceled."

Bregy said the district would keep some schools open to assist parents who do not have other child care options available. The attendance centers will not provide instruction for students, Bregy said. Further information about attendance centers will be made available within the next several days.

Stevens said the two sides had not made any significant progress Monday afternoon in the four remaining areas of contention: salaries, teacher certification, retirement and benefits.

"We are still far apart in those areas," Stevens said.

At the same time the union filed an intent to strike notice, the final contract offers from both the union and school district were posted on the Illinois Education Labor Review Board website. According to the board's final offer, the $1.5 million difference on salaries remains the widest divide.

The teachers union proposed step increases plus base salary increases of 2.25 percent in the first year of the contract, 2.45 percent in the second and 2.7 percent in the final year. The increases include an average 2-percent step increase for years of service. Union representatives estimate the salary increases would cost the district about $6.4 million.

Meanwhile, the district has proposed salary increases of 2.75 percent for the 2012-13 school year, 2 percent in the second year and 2.5 percent in the third year. Those increases include an average 2-percent step increase each year. The total cost of the board's proposal is $4.9 million over the life of the contract.

"To include step increases is disingenuous," Williamson said. "Step increases are part of the contract and what we need to earn teacher loyalty. Last year there were no step increases because we took a freeze."

In addition, the union proposed a retirement package that would reduce the end of career retirement incentive from 6 percent to 4 percent for the final four years of the teacher's career. The union estimates the 2-percent reduction will save the district about $20,000 per retiring teacher. Meanwhile, the district has proposed a retirement plan that gives teachers already in the retirement pipeline a 6-percent per year increase for the final four years. Those who give retirement notice beginning in the 2013-14 school year will receive a 3-percent increase for each of the final four years. The district is proposing to eliminate the increase after the 2014-15 school year.

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