Lake Forest High School teachers on strike over salary and benefits

Lake Forest High School teachers are on strike less than a month after an impasse was publicly declared for contract negotiations.

Instructors at Lake Forest District 115 began their walkout Wednesday as teachers at the Chicago Public Schools spent a third day on strike. About 1,700 students and 150 teachers are idle in Lake Forest.

District 115 officials said they don’t have any meetings scheduled with the union for the rest of the week. The strike is over salary and benefits that would be part of a three-year contract.

Plans call for Lake Forest High to remain open Thursday and Friday as a safe, supervised and supportive environment for students from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. In a statement, District 115 said buses won’t run “nor will students be required to attend school.”

Both sides declared an impasse in talks and posted final and best offers Aug. 24 with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

District 115 is offering the teachers an average estimated total salary hike of 2.6 percent for the 2012-13 academic year, while the Lake Forest Education Association union seeks 5.6 percent.

Teachers, through various formulas, want a total average raise of about 6.5 percent in 2013-14, documents show. The school board is offering an average of 3.4 percent.

For the 2014-15 academic year, the board is proposing a total average pay hike of 3.4 percent. The union wants total raises of 5.6 percent.

At the high school Wednesday, union spokesman Chuck Gress said instructors were disappointed District 115 didn’t respond to their last salary proposal and therefore forced the strike.

Gress said union negotiators gave administrators a last-minute proposal they hoped would avert the strike. However, he said, administrators hadn’t responded to their proposal by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“This isn’t about greed, it’s just about being fair,” said Gress, a 20-year math teacher and coach for the girls basketball team. “We will be out here two days or three weeks, however long we need to be to get a fair contract.”

In a statement issued on behalf of the administration by spokeswoman Anne Whipple, District 115 contends the teachers’ salary demands are unreasonable in a shaky economy.

“The teachers received no increase in compensation for the last school year,” the statement says. “That freeze, however, followed a five-year period over which salaries increased — in unprecedented financial times — by an average of 5.5 percent annually, elevating our salary schedule to one of the highest in the state.”

Documents show a teacher on the low end of the current salary scale would receive $50,116 and $127,649 on the high side for the 2012-13 school year. Lake Forest High placed No. 18 on the latest salary ranking complied by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Gress contends that based on student test scores, Lake Forest teacher salaries should be higher and compete with those paid at high schools such as Stevenson in Lincolnshire. Documents filed by the Lake Forest teachers union show total average pay raises this year will be 4.53 percent at Stevenson District 125.

“Ninety-nine percent of our staff has a master’s degree and our students achieve wonderful success in high school,” Gress said. “We feel we deserve to be compensated for the work we put in.”

In addition, he said, the board is attempting to cut compensation packages for new hires to such a degree that a teacher would have to work 45 years to achieve the same benefits a 25-year instructor receives today.

“The whole concept is unfortunate,” Gress said.

On the benefits side, the teachers union wants HMO family premiums to remain 100 percent funded by taxpayers, according to documents filed with the state. The school board seeks to have the instructors pay 10 percent toward those premiums.

Meanwhile, some students showed support for picketing teachers by honking their horns while driving past the ornate building on North McKinley Road. The teenagers also offered water to the teachers.

“We understand why (the strike) is taking place, but it just makes me angry,” said junior Kevin Doherty, 16. “It makes me angry that people think it’s just about the money, when it’s not. The teachers are actually fighting to make students better.”

Officials said about 350 pupils came to the school Wednesday to participate in a variety of activities. Representatives from a local youth organization and Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Department employees are among those expected to assist District 115 administrators and support staff when the school is open.

Lunch will be available to students each day.

Lake Forest High is prohibited from participating in athletic competition if teachers are on strike. Every attempt will be made to reschedule games missed because of the strike, officials said.

  Lake Forest High School teachers picket Wednesday on the first day of their strike over salary and benefits that would be part of a three-year contract. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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