Chico praised for role in helping broker tentative Waukegan teachers contract deal

 
 
Updated 10/31/2014 5:32 AM
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  • Teachers gather at Waukegan High School's Washington campus during the first day of the Waukegan School District 60 strike.

    Teachers gather at Waukegan High School's Washington campus during the first day of the Waukegan School District 60 strike. Steve Lundy/Daily Herald file photo

  • Gery Chico

    Gery Chico

Representatives for the striking teachers in Waukegan Unit District 60 praised Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico for intervening and brokering a deal that ended a nearly monthlong walkout.

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery hailed Chico's efforts in a news release Thursday.

"I don't believe we would have been able to reach an agreement last night without the leadership of Chairman Chico," he said.

Federation spokesman Kenzo Shibata said Chico worked with the union and school board to "move through some of the logjams between the two sides."

The teachers union and administrators reached a tentative contract agreement early Thursday morning. Teachers had walked off the job Oct. 2.

Details about the three-year deal, which needs to be formally approved by both sides, weren't immediately available.

The two sides came together shortly before midnight, officials said.

All schools will remain closed Friday so both parties can review the agreement. However, athletics and extracurricular activities could resume as soon as Friday, Deputy Superintendent Mary Lamping said.

Teachers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement with an 86 percent affirmative vote Thursday, union officials reported, and will return to work Friday to prepare schools for reopening.

Students will return to school Monday, officials said.

"This tentative agreement represents not only a compromise between the union and the board, but an end to what was a long, trying process for all parties involved," Waukegan Teachers' Council President Kathy Schwarz said. "We are grateful to the entire Waukegan community that struggled with us through these difficult times."

The past 28 days have been an emotional roller coaster filled with finger pointing and nasty news releases.

Emotions bubbled over during a board meeting Tuesday where audience members booed board members and administrators for about 30 minutes. One board member, Victoria Torres, told the audience to "shut up." Torres issued an apology Wednesday.

Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley called the meeting an embarrassment to the city.

Chico reported to Waukegan at the behest of Gov. Pat Quinn.

Chico said he talked with each side individually and was at the final meeting where a tentative deal was struck at around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

He said the two sides had already done most of the work and his job was to try to guide them to the end. He said he didn't know if his arrival or the explosive Tuesday meeting was a deciding factor that pushed the sides toward a deal.

"I don't know if it was any one thing," Chico said. "That would be a little dramatic."

Administrators and teachers were divided on salaries, health insurance, the number of work days and other issues.

Average teacher pay in the district is $55,642, officials said. Salaries range from $36,853 to $100,522.

Teachers initially demanded a 3-year contract with 9-percent raises the first year and 7-percent raises in each of the next two years. The district countered with a two-year deal that included smaller raises.

The two sides made "significant progress" toward an agreement Monday and Tuesday, Lamping said through a spokesman. The real breakthrough came late Wednesday, she said.

Union and district officials will meet to determine how lost days will be made up. The amended calendar will be finalized by Nov. 14, Lamping said.

Motley remained critical of the walkout's duration.

"It was way too long," he said. "There was so much tension and mistrust that it couldn't be solved by that group (alone)."

Asked if the state should have acted earlier, Chico said it's relatively rare for Illinois officials to get involved in a contract dispute and said local officials should be given a chance to work it out first.

Quinn's decision to dispatch Chico came in the last week of a historically heated campaign against Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.

• Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this report.

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