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posted: 1/31/2014 5:57 PM

Strike authorization disappoints Dist. 57 teachers, board

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School board members and teachers union representatives in Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 expressed disappointment Friday that a declaration of intent to strike made by the union Thursday night had to come so soon after a cordial face-to-face meeting between the two sides.

As part of its public statement, the board released the details of its current offer to the Mount Prospect Education Association.

The proposed four-year contract offers 4 percent salary increases each year with an additional 2 percent increase in the first year. This first-year boost consists of a 1 percent increase for a pension contribution change and 1 percent as compensation for additional professional development time teachers would put in beginning in the second year of the contract.

The offer also includes an increase in the district's contribution toward health insurance premiums, according to the board.

"We are doing everything we possibly can to avoid a strike," District 57 board President Karen Nejdl said. "It affects the whole community. We want to make this as amicable as possible."

Teachers union spokeswoman Carolyn Story said the offer described is the same one that has been on the table since September.

Though she declined to state the union's specific disagreements, she did state that the information released by the board Friday "sends an incomplete picture of the offer."

Story said the union membership was encouraged by its face-to-face meeting with the board just a week before the declaration of intent to strike, but disappointed by the overall lack of progress after 11 months of negotiations.

"It was a cordial conversation without lawyers," Story said. "The tone of the conversation was wonderful. That cordiality of discussion is so important."

The declaration of intent to strike on Thursday begins a 10-day timetable before the union could legally strike. But to do so it must also post a date to strike, and at least 10 days' notice must be given for that as well, Story said.

"We're not ready to post yet," Story added. "We are ready to talk to them anytime. None of us want to strike. We are so saddened by this."

While there has never been a strike in District 57 before, this is also the longest teachers have worked without a contract, Nejdl said. The last contract expired on June 30.

There have been some external factors at work in the lengthy negotiations, however, including the government shutdown last year when federal mediators were unable to work, Nejdl said.

"It is disappointing," she said. "There has been a lot of work put into this. No one anticipated this going on for nearly a year by any means."

Further negotiating sessions are already scheduled for Feb. 5 and 10.

Nejdl said that as the representatives of the community, the board has a responsibility to students, teachers and taxpayers -- as well as to balance those responsibilities.

"The board is really committed to settling this," she said.

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