East St. Louis teachers strike continues, more talks set for Thursday
The East St. Louis teachers strike will continue Thursday after no agreement was reached during about eight hours at the negotiation table Wednesday.
Another negotiation meeting between School District 189 officials and representatives from Union Local 1220 is set for 1 p.m. Thursday, according to District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver, who emerged around 9 p.m. Wednesday from a lengthy negotiation session at the Illinois Federation of Teachers office in Fairview Heights.
The meeting came the day after the District 189 Board of Education declared an emergency so that it could allow high school athletes to practice their sports.
The teams cannot compete as long as teachers remain on strike, but practice sessions will keep them from falling further behind.
Culver said the two sides continue to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. As he has said since the strike began nine days ago, he can not and will not recommend the contract the union wants him to recommend because the district has no financial means to sustain them long term.
“Although good faith bargaining took place, we can’t agree to what we can’t support. We can not recommend that the District Board of Education and the District Financial Oversight Panel approve a contract that will provide a short term solution and create a long term problem,” Culver said.
Culver said the union continues to point to the $30 million fund balance that the district has in reserve, “which is approximately four months of operating costs.”
He said the fund balance is the result of “the sale of working cash bonds, restructuring debt, massive reductions in force, school closures and temporary state funding.” These temporary funding sources are not guaranteed from one year to the next, Culver said.
Meanwhile union spokesman Dave Comerford said “We’re disappointed.” But he said that the union has requested another meeting for Thursday at 1 p.m. to again sit down with district officials.
Culver said they will sit down with them as long as it takes. But, the bottom line is the district only has so much money and “I emptied my pockets. I did not want this strike. I dug deep to come up with the agreement we put on the table.”
He said the district has refused, as it has all along, to budge. from the tentative agreement that the union body voted down, walked off of their jobs and went straight to the picket lines over.
“We tried everything we could think of to get the students back in school,” Comerford said.
“Unfortunately, Superintendent Culver and the management team don’t share this priority. They refused to make new proposals or make counter proposals. We don’t believe it’s a funding problem. Investing in students and classrooms isn’t their priority,” Comerford said.
“The union offered a proposal that decreases the cost by over $4 million. We offered to take a year off of the contracts to address their concerns about future years. We also suggested a committee to examine the true cost of the salary schedule. This would help both parties reach an agreement on what type of salary schedule is necessary,” Comerford said.
Culver said despite a marathon night filled with discussion, union leaders still want to keep the 11 step salary schedule they have now. The district, he said, has proposed a 21 step salary schedule, something it feels it can maintain, And, he said it is more than fair. He said everyone got raises and the entire agreement laid out and signed by the union negotiating team is “fair and equitable.”
“We spent hours discussing the district’s financial predictions. The last time the district created a long term financial plan, they gained $50 million dollars more than they predicted over a three-year period. They have a track record of predicting the worst, but those predictions never come true,” Comerford said.