Dozens of teachers from Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 attended Wednesday's school board meeting to show their determination to get a contract.
Wearing black T-shirts with "PHEA" (Prospect Heights Education Association) written on them, the teachers stood as a group while union President Dan Perillo addressed the board, asking it to negotiate in good faith with the teachers.
"We believe the district has the stability and the ability to offer fair salaries," Perillo said.
District 23's teachers are at the midway point of a four-year contract. The deal, approved when the district's financial picture was uncertain, called for the compensation portion of the contract to be renegotiated at the two-year mark.
In his remarks to the board, Perillo stated that the district's finances have stabilized to the point where a salary increase for teachers in the final two years of the deal is appropriate. He reminded the board that the second year of the existing deal called for a salary freeze.
District 23 and union representatives recently agreed to enlist the services of a federal mediator to help facilitate negotiations, but the ongoing government shutdown has forced talks to be suspended indefinitely.
Board President Mari-Lynn Peters said the district hopes that talks can resume in November.
"We're all on board to move forward," she said.
Perillo, in an interview conducted after the teachers left Wednesday's meeting, said he understood that the shutdown is well out of the district's control.
"Obviously, we're not blaming the district for that," he said. "I just felt it was important to speak up because our members have continued to work hard while their salaries were frozen for the past 13 months."
District 23 Superintendent Deb Wilson said it's not clear how future talks would be scheduled if and when the government shutdown ends.
Other nearby school districts are in the same boat, she said.