As Grayslake Elementary District 46's teachers strike heads into its second day, union officials say they are united in seeking a fair contract while the school board insists a deficit means it can't afford to spend a lot.
It's against that backdrop that District 46 school board members and Lake County Federation of Teachers union representatives will meet in a bargaining session set by a federal mediator for Thursday morning.
Previously, they met for about eight hours Tuesday night without success, which set the stage for the strike that started Wednesday.
Diane Elfering, an instructor at Park School Campus in Round Lake who heads the union local, said the membership remains willing to accept a base pay freeze as part of a two-year contract. The 26-year district employee said the teachers union and board are divided over retirement incentives, base salary and compensation for professional development.
"The teachers are united," Elfering said as some Frederick School teachers picketed along Route 83. "We want to have the respect and we want to have a fair contract."
Teachers are picketing near the seven District 46 schools. The 325 instructors have been without a contract since July 1.
Board President Ray Millington said he hopes "good progress" can be made toward a settlement in Thursday's session. Millington and other board members have cited financial concerns during the contract talks, including a $1.6 million projected budget deficit for the 2012-13 academic year.
"Again, with our deficit going on, we can't afford a whole lot," Millington said.
With an enrollment of nearly 4,000 pupils, District 46 serves parts of Grayslake, Third Lake, Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Beach and Lake Villa. Superintendent Ellen Correll announced there will be no classes Thursday due to the strike.
Teachers had established a Wednesday deadline by which to have a new deal in place or they would walk off the job.
Talks between the district and the union began in February 2012. District 46's latest, publicly known offer is a two-year deal under which teachers would not receive base salary hikes or step increases for longevity. Teachers would receive a $1,000 stipend paid to them in the 2013-14 school year if they have not submitted a retirement notice.
Lake County Federation of Teachers business agent Jim Pergander said the union is willing to go with the federal mediator's suggestion regarding a two-year settlement that would include splitting the difference with the school board on an issue of increased pay for boosting academic credentials.
"We actually thought when we conceded on taking no salary increases, that was going to break open and come to a settlement quickly," Pergander said.
Instructors initially sought 3 percent base salary hikes in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years. Union members have objected to the district's effort to end 6 percent annual base salary raises over the final four years of employment for teachers who give their retirement notices.
Correll said Prairieview School in Hainesville will again be open Thursday for children who need someplace safe to stay. She said about 30 children were brought to the day-care option Wednesday that was run by a private company.
Parents were charged $20 for up to four hours of day care at a special strike rate, with an extra $3 to include lunch. Full-day service with lunch was $33.