CAHOKIA — Teachers rejected District 187's latest contract offer Thursday and the district superintendent announced that the start of school has been delayed to Sept. 6.
Teachers were asked to report on Sept. 4. However, these dates hinge on a contract agreement being signed.
Dave Comerford, a spokesman for the teachers union, said by delaying the start of school, he feels the district is trying to use that position "as an intimidating tactic."
Superintendent Art Ryan said the board is adamant about having an agreement signed before school starts so there is no risk of a work stoppage and a need for parents to have to figure out what to do with their children who would be out of school.
He said there is no lockout of teachers; only a delay to the start of school.
"The Board of Education and the administration have delayed the start of school in hopes of reaching a contract agreement with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Local 1272. This afternoon the union rejected the board's latest financial settlement offer," Ryan said Thursday.
Ryan said, "The board believes strongly that the students and families of the district are entitled to an uninterrupted school year. The board is committed to the education of our children and will not allow a work stoppage to hamper student learning," said Ryan, a former union president in the district.
Comerford said the teachers "are not happy that they are not starting school on time."
Comerford said the teachers and he were kind of surprised that the district was not allowing teachers to start the 2012-13 school year on time. He expected the teachers would start school on time and negotiations between them and the board would continue.
The union has about 300 teachers in it. And there are 500 total employees in the union, Ryan said.
The teacher's will receive their last paycheck, which is based on the last school year, on Aug. 28, Ryan said.
While they are not working, they do not get paid, Ryan said. Others in the district will be laid off if no agreement is reached by September, Ryan said.
Asked if parents are complaining about the delay, Ryan said those parents he's spoken one on one with want the district to get an agreement so there won't be a risk of a work stoppage after school has started.
Mary Ann Spicer told Ryan that some high schoolers have been calling her saying they are ready to get back to school. She told them to make their voices heard to district officials, she said. "I don't like it," she said.
Spicer said the board is trying to hire relatives of theirs and politicians are trying to get their relatives hired. "And we still have teachers who have not been brought back," Spicer said. She is a former school board member who served from 1999 to 2011.
"Every year dozens of school districts don't have contract agreements, Comerford said.
He said they start school and continue to negotiate, which is what he and the teachers expected to happen in Cahokia.
Ryan said the district started school on time in 2007 and the teachers went out on strike two weeks after that, leaving students and parents in a lurch.
Comerford said Ryan keeps referring to 2007 and that was an exception to the rule. He said there has been no mention of a strike among the teachers. The focus is on negotiating a contract, Comerford said.
"I think they're missing the point. The one way to get a deal done is to get back to the bargaining table," he said.
Asked how many times the district can delay the start up date, neither Ryan nor Comerford were aware of a specific limits.
Comerford, who has worked for the Illinois Federation of Teachers for 16 years, said that to delay the start of school again would "be a clear sign that you're intentionally keeping the teachers out of school."
Ryan said he hopes a contract agreement can be reached before Sept. 6.
Details of what the sticking points are in the negotiations contract offer were not released. Ryan said he and members of the union are not allowed to discuss the negotiations publicly.
Teachers have been preparing their classes and getting their class rooms ready since mid June and July. Classes for the projected 4,200 students in the district were originally slated to begin next Wednesday. Currently, between 3,300 and 3,400 students have registered.
Ryan said District 187 is facing many financial hardships this year, including "the loss of over $500,000 in local property taxes, a decrease in general state aid of more than $2 million and a 5 percent increase to health insurance costs which totals about $269,000." The district, Ryan said, must cut its expenses by $3 million to balance its budget.
"The district must submit its budget to the Illinois State Board of Education, and the budget is not allowed to go into deficit spending," Ryan said.
The only parent at the public hearing, Susanne Thomas, has a third-grader in the district. She said she checked the computer several times to see whether school was starting or being delayed. And, when she learned that school would be delayed, she kind of let out a sinking sigh.
Her son is asking over and over when school is going to start and the only answer she can give is, "I don't know," she said.
She's a stay-at-home mom so she knows that she has it a lot easier in terms of what to do with her children than working parents.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 239-2503.