As strike date nears, pay still the big issue in Grayslake District 46

After nine months of negotiations, pay is the only issue keeping Grayslake Elementary District 46 officials from finalizing labor contracts with the unions representing teachers and support staffers.

But the impasse is significant enough that the unions have announced their intent to strike as soon as Thursday, Nov. 7.

District officials hope that can be avoided. Working with a federal mediator, they met with representatives from the Grayslake Federation of Teachers and the Grayslake PSRP, which represents the support workers, on Monday in another negotiating session. More sessions are scheduled, including one at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Frederick School.

"Although the intent to strike is still standing, all parties have agreed to continue to negotiate in good faith toward the goal of reaching an agreement," a joint statement issued Wednesday by district and union representatives reads.

Matthew LaPierre, a staff representative for Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, said a strike "seems more likely than not."

Board President Jim Weidman, the district's spokesman for the situation, didn't respond to emails. Earlier in the week, he said the school board remains hopeful an agreement can be reached without a walkout.

District 46 has seven schools and about 3,700 students. It includes parts of Grayslake, Third Lake, Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Beach and Lake Villa.

The district, the teachers and the support staffers are two years into four-year contracts that expire in summer 2021. Under the terms of that deal, the board and unions agreed to hold off on determining the amount of pay raises for the contracts' final two years, leaving salary hikes for the current and next school years undetermined.

The decision to defer was made because the district's financial future "was uncertain" when the four-year pact was reached, according to documents filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

At this point, however, the unions say the district is healthier financially and in a better position to give teachers and support staffers pay increases, documents indicate.

According to documents dated Oct. 23, the teachers union last requested 4.6% raises for teachers with up to 18 years' experience for the current school year and again for the 2020-21 term. It wants 4.1% raises for teachers with 19 to 32 years of experience.

No District 46 teachers have more than 32 years' experience, documents say.

The union for the support staffers requested 4.6% raises regardless of experience level.

Those raises would cost the district more than $3.2 million over two years, documents indicate.

The district can afford those pay hikes because it ended the most recent budget cycle on June 30 with about $11.4 million in its education fund, nearly $2 million more than the previous budget year, documents filed by the teachers union state.

The school board last offered 3.2% annual pay raises for teachers with up to 18 years' experience, documents indicate. Teachers with 19 to 32 years of experience would receive 3% raises.

Support staffers would receive 3.2% raises each year under the board's proposal.

Those raises would cost the district nearly $2.3 million over two years, according to documents.

The unions made an undisclosed counterproposal Monday, LaPierre said, but the district hasn't responded.

"(We) look forward to a meaningful counterproposal from management," LaPierre said.

The workers have offered to submit the dispute to binding arbitration, but district leaders have declined, documents indicate.

Agreements have been tentatively reached on all other issues - including extracurricular and summer school pay, tuition reimbursement and starting pay.

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