'This is our last resort': Geneva teachers' strike will continue Wednesday

 
 
Updated 12/4/2018 6:59 PM
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  • Geneva teachers will be back on the picket lines Wednesday for the second day of a strike that has canceled classes for nearly 6,000 students.

      Geneva teachers will be back on the picket lines Wednesday for the second day of a strike that has canceled classes for nearly 6,000 students. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Geneva teachers picket Tuesday outside the high school.

      Geneva teachers picket Tuesday outside the high school. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • No new talks have been scheduled as Geneva teachers walked picket lines Tuesday.

      No new talks have been scheduled as Geneva teachers walked picket lines Tuesday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Nearly 6,000 students will be out of classes again Wednesday as striking teachers in Geneva District 304 continue walking picket lines after last-ditch contract negotiations broke down.

No new talks have been scheduled as the strike -- triggered by a stalemate over salaries and the structure of raises -- enters its second day.

The teachers union called for the walkout -- the first this fall in the suburbs -- after a marathon bargaining session that began Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning failed to produce an agreement.

Officials are uncertain how the district will handle days lost to the strike or how it will affect first-semester final exams due to take place the week of Dec. 17 at Geneva High School, district spokeswoman Laura Sprague said.

Teachers picketed Tuesday at schools and the district's headquarters.

"I had hoped that it would not get to this," said girls varsity basketball coach Sarah Meadows, who has taught in the district for 16 years. She said she texted her players throughout the day, telling them she missed them. Games and practices are canceled while teachers are on strike.

"I feel like I have been here for 16 years, and I went through the strike process that we had before (in 2012) and we gave up stuff for the school board and this community," Meadows said. "I feel like it is important for us to be, not rewarded, but to be compensated for that, and to be competitive."

In 2012, a deal was struck the night before teachers were set to go on strike.

Meadows had nothing bad to say about the school board.

"I think they are doing what they think is right, and I think the GEA is for sure doing what we think is right," she said.

The average salary for a Geneva teacher is $69,684, according to the 2017-18 Illinois School Report Card. That places the district ahead of districts in East and West Dundee, Oswego, St. Charles, East Aurora, West Aurora and Kaneland but behind those in places such as Batavia, Barrington, Elmhurst, Lake Zurich, Lisle, Naperville and Westmont.

According to the Illinois Report Card, the Geneva school district had the equivalent of 393 full-time teachers in the 2017-18 school year. It had 5,831 students.

Second-year teacher Kate Woodruff, a high school English teacher, said that although the school board's salary offers for younger teachers improved, they were not good for the veteran teachers who helped her as she started her career.

"I am here because I am unified with this group, this group that has supported me from my first day of teaching to the present day," she said.

The school board Tuesday released the offer it made to the union Monday night. The proposal says it would provide more than $5.5 million in new money for teacher pay over the life of a proposed four-year contract.

The salary increases offered are:

• 2018-19: 3.5 percent to 6.3 percent

• 2019-20: 3.4 percent to 5.8 percent

• 2020-21: 3.3 percent to 5.4 percent

• 2012-22: 2.7 percent to 4.6 percent

"The Board of Education is grateful for the many calls and emails urging both parties to resolve their differences and to put the needs of our students first by reaching agreement on a fair and fiscally responsible multiyear contract that compensates our teachers fairly and competitively for their work, while operating within the financial means of the district and advancing the best interests of all District 304 stakeholders, including our students, parents and community," the district said in a Tuesday morning note.

Geneva teachers went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement in a 7½-hour negotiating session that began Monday night.
  Geneva teachers went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement in a 7½-hour negotiating session that began Monday night. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

The Geneva Education Association issued a statement from union President Kevin Gannon saying the two sides worked for nearly eight hours to reach an agreement.

"In the end, we made the difficult decision to go on strike," Gannon said in the statement. "The board's salary model continues to be an untested model that no other school district in Kane County uses to compensate its educators. Our members and the community have been very clear that a traditional step and lane salary schedule that determines salary based on experience and education is important to them. The board's latest offer does not meet that expectation.

"Our educators want nothing more than to be in their classrooms instead of out on a picket line. This is our last resort. We remain open to meeting with the board anytime to reach a tentative agreement and return to our students."

John Brosnan, special counsel to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, said the state cannot mandate a settlement. It can, however, suggest the two sides enter into binding arbitration, using an arbitrator from the state board -- but that is rare.

The two sides already are working with a federal mediator.

The labor relations board, meanwhile, is still investigating an Oct. 9 unfair labor practices complaint filed by the district against the union.

"The board's salary model continues to be an untested model that no other school district in Kane County uses to compensate its educators," Geneva teachers union President Kevin Gannon said before teachers walked out of school Tuesday morning.
  "The board's salary model continues to be an untested model that no other school district in Kane County uses to compensate its educators," Geneva teachers union President Kevin Gannon said before teachers walked out of school Tuesday morning. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

The union tendered a counteroffer Sunday night to one made by the district last week.

Union spokesman Bridget Shanahan said Monday the offer would increase starting salary by about 12 percent over four years. Veteran teachers' pay would increase by 4.2 percent over those four years, she said.

The salary increases sought by the union are:

• 2018-19: 4.19 percent to 6.68 percent;

• 2019-20: 5.12 percent to 6.61 percent;

• 2020-21: 3.53 percent to 5.51 percent;

• 2021-22: 2.66 percent to 3.45 percent.

The union also wants an increase in the stipends paid for teachers who lead sports and other activities outside school hours, and an increase in pay for summer school and curriculum-writing work.

Librarians, social workers and psychologists also are covered by the contract.

On the "What's Happening in Geneva" and the school district Facebook pages, parents and other community residents debated whether teachers are paid too much or too little. Some commenters criticized the teachers for going on strike just two weeks before the high school students are scheduled to take first-semester final examinations.

Students who attend Fox Valley Career Center are still attending those classes, as are children who attend classes through the Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative.

The Geneva Park District's Friendship Station preschool, housed at Geneva Middle School South, remains open.

But extracurricular club meetings, as well as sports practices and games, are canceled. Nonschool feeder club practices held at the schools are also canceled.

The Kids Zone before- and aftercare school program at the elementary schools, run by the park district, were canceled Tuesday but will resume Wednesday at the Sunset and Persinger recreation centers, the district said.

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