Teachers union gives strike notice to Geneva schools

Special to the Tribune

Administrators from Geneva School District 304 will begin working on strike plans, after they received formal notice from the teachers that they intend to strike, officials said late Friday.

A nearly 12-hour session ended without a deal Friday night.

Both sides’ final offers were posted to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board Friday and state law requires that at least 14 days must elapse before teachers can strike, meaning the earliest the teachers could walk out is Friday, Nov. 9.

“Progress and agreement were made on a number of issues; however, several issues remain unresolved,” said school board President Mark Grosso, in a statement. “… The board also remains hopeful that union members will continue to work until an agreement is reached. Given the notice filed today, however, it would be negligent of the district not to plan in advance for the possibility of a strike.”

The final offers are available on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board website, the district’s website and the union’s website.

Teachers’ salaries are the main issue, with teachers arguing the district has enough money in reserves to afford  a salary increase, while still allowing the district money to refund some property tax dollars to taxpayers, as it did last year.

The district’s offer proposes that teachers take a hard salary freeze the first year, with no step or lane increases.

Step and lane increases are raises teachers receive each year for experience and continuing education.

District officials said that moving one year on the salary grid translates to a 2.65 percent increase for a teacher’s salary. Movement on the salary grid for a master’s degree earned, for example, would also increase salary another 2.65 percent, the district said.

Further advancement in post-graduate coursework translates to additional raises.

In the second year of the contract, the district proposes a 1.4 percent raise, with no step raises, but lane increases. In the third year, the district proposes step increases for all teachers, and the ability to move one lane on the grid.

“The board is mindful that this salary proposal is less than has been offered in prior years,” Grosso wrote in the district’s offer. “It is a reflection of the fiscal challenges we face as a public school district. It is also a reflection of the sacrifice other employee groups within the district have been asked to make in the last several years.”

The union responded in a statement rebutting many of the points of the district’s offer, saying that “although we disagree with Mr. Grosso’s tone and much of what he wrote in the opening of the board offer, we would simply say that we will continue to put all our effort into working toward a fair contract.”

Union President Carol Young previously has said the teachers’ strike vote was meant to show district officials that what they are offering and saying is "unacceptable."

The union’s offer asks for a 1 percent raise in the first year, along with step and lane increases; a 1 percent raise, with step and lane increases, in the second year; a hard salary freeze in the first half of the third year, with step and lane increases in the second half of the third year.

The teachers also are asking for a 6 percent bump in pay in three of the last four years of employment before retirement, which would translate to a larger wage that would determine a pension.

The district proposes a one-time 6 percent boost for teachers who plan to retire before the end of the contract, but wrote that it wants to phase out the end-of-career bumps that boost pensions.

The two sides have been negotiating since February; teachers currently are working under the terms of the previous contract, which expired Aug. 15.

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