East St. Louis School District 189 and its teachers plan to return to the negotiating table Monday afternoon.
Dave Comerford of the International Federation of Teachers and Sharon Crockett, president of Union Local 1220, said that they have seen the documents that show the district has money and has simply not done enough. District Superintendent Arthur Culver argues he has offered his “best and final offer” to the frustrated teachers.
“We emptied our pockets. Union Local 1220 said we have $30 million in our fund balance,” Culver said. “That is only enough money for four months of our operating expenses. It would be fiscally irresponsible for us to burden taxpayers with contracts we know we cannot sustain.”
“Right now, the tax rate in East St. Louis is 10.83 percent. This is one of the poorest districts with the highest property taxes,” Culver added.
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Comerford and Crockett said they have not gotten any documentation from Culver to support his claims.
“We have asked for documentation and have not gotten it,” Comerford said. “We are asking for a two-year contract — no long-term commitment. These teachers took a two-year freeze,”
Crockett thinks there is more room for the two sides to talk about. For example, he said instead of spending $35,000 on T-shirts and having a top-heavy administration, district officials could give the desiccated teachers the contract they want.
A major problem for the teachers is that it takes them double the time to earn their way to the top of the pay schedule than it takes new hires with higher starting pay schedules.
Culver said Local 1220’s contract requires the district to consider the teachers’ years of teaching experience and credentials. A teacher coming in with three years of teaching experience is started at schedule three. One with four years experience is started at schedule four on up to six years experience. Six years is the maximum schedule new hires can start at, Culver said.
Culver noted that some teachers contacted him to say that after reading the tentative agreement that the union signed and presented to the body last Tuesday, they want to reconsider and have a chance to revote. Some, according to Culver, complained that they were not given a private ballot to vote with and felt intimidated. Some complained of loud noises and some said the union meeting room was hot and too crowded. Culver said some reported they couldn’t even get in. He said he wonders if the way the tentative agreement was presented may have caused some confusion.
“I hope that those teachers who have expressed a desire to take another look are given another chance to take a look at the tentative agreement,” Culver said. “We have nothing else to offer. We’re projecting deficiencies for the future. We have temporary funding from the state, from selling working cash bonds, and restructuring debt — all one-time temporary funding sources.”
Comerford said if Culver had been there, “he would have no doubt that our members spoke passionately against his proposal and then they voted overwhelmingly against it.”
“It’s unfortunate that Superintendent Culver is assuming his employees didn’t understand the proposal they were presented with,” he added.
Meanwhile, students said they are frustrated but strongly back the teachers. Many of them were protesting Thursday morning on the first day of the strike. Friday night’s football game against Edwardsville was canceled, and students are losing time they need to earn scholarships to college.
Megan Kilpatrick, 18, is a senior at East St. Louis Senior High School, said, “I am out here because I love my education. I want my education. I want the teachers to get their checks. If they go out, I go out. They care for us. We care for them. When they get their checks, we go back to school. We’re the future, not the past. We are here, too, because we care about the middle and elementary school children. They are our future. We want them to be successful in life like we want to be successful in life. None of us can be successful in life if we can’t get our education. Pay our teachers so we can go back to school.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503