Striking District 46 workers picket in Grayslake

Dozens of striking Grayslake Elementary District 46 teachers and support workers - and quite a few supporters - walked along Route 83 near the district headquarters Thursday to protest what they feel are unfairly low wages.

Bundled up in heavy coats, hats, gloves and scarves, many of the protesters wore signs declaring the strike, which began Thursday morning. Others carried homemade signs.

Whenever a passing driver honked a horn in support, the employees cheered, waved or enthusiastically shook their signs.

"We've had a lot of support from the community," said Becky Chappell, a drama teacher at Grayslake Middle School. "They've brought food and coffee, which is nice."

A 17-year veteran of District 46, Chappell said she'd much rather be in the classroom with her students.

"(But) I think we deserve fair compensation for our work," Chappell said.

More than 300 teachers and about 180 support workers from the district's seven schools are on strike. Pay is the only issue dividing the school board from the employees, who are represented by the Grayslake Federation of Teachers and the Grayslake Federation of Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel.

Teachers and support workers 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 at the time, according to documents filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The employees' unions say the district now is healthier financially and in a better position to give pay increases.

The school board's most recent offer would give teachers with up to 18 years of experience a 3.8% pay hike for each of the remaining contract years, and teachers with more than 18 years experience would get 3% raises. All of the support staff would receive a 3.8% hike in each of the two years.

The unions' most recent proposal came before that offer, and it wasn't made public.

No classes, extracurricular activities, after-school programs or before-school programs will be held during the strike.

Anna-Lise Henricksson, an eighth-grade math teacher at Grayslake Middle, said she was proud to picket with her fellow employees. But she also was hopeful an agreement can be reached quickly "so we don't lose more time with our students and the curriculum."

"I hope the board has the best interest of students (in mind)," she said.

Current and former students and some parents joined the striking workers on the picket line. They included Nora Peck, whose son, Brian, is a kindergartner at Meadowview School. She held a sign reading "I stand with D46 teachers."

"I'm here to support the teachers because I believe they are our most valuable community members, and I think we undervalue them by not paying them what they're worth," Peck said.

A negotiation session was scheduled for Thursday evening.

School board President Jim Weidman, who has been serving as the district's spokesman on the labor standoff, said he was optimistic a deal could be reached at that session "and that normal school activities can resume as quickly as possible."

Regardless of the outcome of that negotiating session, classes won't be held Friday, which already was scheduled as a day off for students.

District 46 employees last walked out in 2013. That strike lasted three days.

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  Kelli Cordes, left, a social worker at Grayslake Middle School, and Alex Dollinger, a speech and language pathologist at Grayslake Middle School, picket on the first day of a teacher and support staff strike in Grayslake Elementary District 46 Thursday. Joe Lewnard/
  Striking Grayslake Elementary District 46 teachers and support staffers march along Route 83 near Grayslake Elementary District 46 headquarters on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/
  Striking Grayslake Elementary District 46 teachers and support staffers march along Route 83 near Grayslake Elementary District 46 headquarters on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/
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