District 211 teachers strike could start Dec. 18

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 teachers could go on strike as early as Tuesday over stalled contract negotiations, union officials said Wednesday.

But John Braglia, president of Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, said he hopes a strike can be averted through the union's willingness to consider a federal mediator's suggested resolution.

However, Braglia said the school board has not demonstrated interest in the mediator's proposal.

The board released a written statement in response to Braglia's remarks Wednesday.

"The board requested federal mediation to assist the parties in reaching resolution through the use of a neutral party," the statement reads. "There is confidentiality attached to that process which the board respects and will honor. However, the proposal that the board made was the outgrowth of the mediation process and the input of the mediator."

Base salary increases are the main sticking point in a proposed four-year contract. Braglia and District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates, acting as the board's representative, have been meeting daily over the past two weeks in an effort to break the impasse.

Students are scheduled to take their final exams for the first semester from Wednesday, Dec. 19, through Friday, Dec. 21. Braglia said he has tried hard to keep students from being affected, but time is running out.

"I'm sick to death about this," he said. "The last thing I want to do is affect students' ability to take their final exams or close out their school year. ... We did not create this mess."

The board also posted a statement on the district website Wednesday that addressed the status of negotiations, its most recent proposal, and the threat of a strike next week.

"Hurting our students at final exam time is not the right way to resolve this issue," the statement reads. "The board is committed to continue communicating and exchanging potential solutions with the union in the hope of reaching an agreement soon."

The impacts of a strike during the final week of the semester would go beyond the loss of four school days.

Some seniors need their seventh-semester transcripts for pending college applications. Also, the Illinois High School Association dictates that no student competitions or practices can occur while teachers are on strike, even during winter break.

While the sides informally agreed to a 2 percent increase to base salaries for the current school year, a significant part of the disagreement involves pay hikes for the remaining three years. Any new contract will be retroactive to July 1 this year.

Base increases are in addition to the step increases teachers receive as they gain another year's experience. Annual step increases in District 211 differ depending on where one is in one's career, but this year's average is 3.7 percent, district officials said.

Braglia said the mediator suggests base salary increases for the last three years of the contract be calculated from the average between 1.9 percent and the rate of inflation for each year, if inflation is higher than 1.9 percent as expected.

If the rate of inflation is lower than 1.9 percent, salary increases would be based entirely on that lower percentage, he added.

The union's last proposal was to have base-salary increases based what the current rates of inflation will be for those last three years.

The board's last proposal was for such increases to be based on 75 percent of the rolling average of the previous 10 years' rates of inflation for teachers still on the salary schedule, and 100 percent of that rolling average for teachers off the salary schedule after exceeding 25 years' experience.

The negotiations are not on the agenda of the school board's last scheduled meeting of the year at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. However, in anticipation of a large crowd, the location of the meeting has been changed to the cafeteria of Conant High School, 700 E. Cougar Trail in Hoffman Estates.

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