McHenry high schools closed amid teachers strike
McHenry High School District 156 schools were closed Thursday after teachers went on strike early in the morning.
Negotiations broke down when a bargaining session that continued until 1 a.m. did not result in a new contract, officials said, with the school administration saying the two sides were far apart on teacher raises.
Extracurricular and co-curricular activities also have been canceled for the 2,550 students at McHenry's east and west campuses.
"We're extremely disappointed as a board," school board President Steven Bellmore said. "The kids have to suffer that expense."
The two sides failed to agree on compensation and insurance benefits.
"The sticking point right now is the salary structure," Bellmore said. "We're trying to replace it with another schedule. The union is not willing to negotiate on that."
The school board's latest offer is a flat 2.7 percent yearly increase on average for four years -- that includes step and base pay raises.
Teachers are seeking an automatic step increase of 3.64 percent plus an extra 1.36 percent increase to the base pay, amounting to an overall 5 percent yearly increase, Bellmore said.
"They also want us to pay 100 percent of the increase on the premiums for health insurance," Bellmore said. "That's the major sticking point."
A representative for the Illinois Education Association, which represents 160 McHenry District 156 teachers, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bellmore said uncertainty over state funding and having only $1.6 million in reserves make higher raises untenable.
"Is that where our district needs to be financially on a $33 million budget? No," Bellmore said, adding the district's accounting firm advises having roughly $8 million in surplus funds. "We don't have a lot of reserves, so we cannot continue going down that same path of raises that we have in the past to put us in the same position we were in six years ago. We were $2 million in the red four years ago.
"In those four years, we've upgraded our technology in the district, which is 10 years old, at the expense of $2 million."
The district also spent $1.7 million on facilities improvements during that time. Teachers also received raises every year except 2011 when they took a voluntary pay freeze.
The previous contract, which expired June 30, was for two years. Officials want some longevity this time.
"It would be kind of nice to come to a longer contract agreement on both sides to give everybody a little rest," said Bellmore, who has been board president for three years.
No future negotiation sessions are scheduled as yet.