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updated: 12/21/2012 10:27 PM

District 33 teachers could strike as early as Jan. 7

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Teachers in West Chicago Elementary District 33 delivered an intent to strike notice to school district offices Friday -- a procedure that allows them to legally strike as early as Jan. 7.

That would be the first scheduled day back from winter break, which started Friday afternoon after classes were dismissed.

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Members of the Elementary Teachers Association of West Chicago voted Dec. 12 in favor of filing their intent to strike, but they didn't officially give the papers to the district until 2:30 p.m. Friday. That's because union officials were hopeful there could have been compromise with the school board in the meantime over key issues still on the table, said Mary Catherine Kosmach, the union's chief negotiator and a fifth-grade teacher who has been with the district since 1979.

"We want to compromise and the board has pushed us into this corner because they will not meet us halfway," Kosmach said. "We're asking for compromise on both sides."

But after meeting with school board members Dave Barclay and John Haffner on Tuesday, Kosmach said the two sides remained on opposite sides, particularly with respect to insurance payments.

Teachers are opposed to a district proposal that seeks to cap the amount it will pay for its share of employee insurance premiums.

Board President Chris Scheck said in a statement that changes to health care "are an essential component to balancing our budget," and because the union hasn't been willing to concede on that issue, that spurred the board to declare an impasse in negotiations Dec. 3.

The two sides have also sparred over salary and benefits, class sizes and teacher workdays.

The difference in cost between what the two sides are proposing is about $3.5 million over the course of the proposed three-year contract, Barclay said.

Scheck said the board offered the union six dates for further negotiations, but union officials have said they don't want to meet until after the New Year's holiday.

"The union's chief negotiator has said meeting over the holidays would be unfair to union officials. We believe not meeting is unfair to students and parents," Scheck said.

Kosmach said members of the union's negotiating team have been meeting since Sept. 29, 2011, and it's only fair they get the opportunity to travel out of state to visit family for the holidays.

"Family and community is important to all of us -- the board side and teachers' side," Kosmach said.

She said teachers don't want to strike "in any way shape or form," and was hopeful the two sides could meet Jan. 3 or 4.

Barclay said if those are the earliest dates the union is willing to meet, "we have to work with those dates."

He also said the board was disappointed union officials "chose the last hour of the last day of our classes" to provide the intent to strike notice, since the district has less time to make preparations to begin informing parents about a potential strike.

However, Superintendent Kathy Wolfe also said in a district news release that the district has recently accelerated its strike preparations, and officials are prepared to provide services to parents if a strike does occur.

Roughly 4,000 students attend school in District 33, which is comprised of six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool that meets at two locations.

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