Metro-East News

Striking East St. Louis teachers, District 189 still at a stalemate

The striking East St. Louis teachers failed to reach an agreement with the school district Tuesday after negotiating for nearly six hours.

Dave Comerford, union spokesman for Local 1220, said the district tweaked its proposal but only superficially. “But in real dollars, we would receive less in pay under this proposal for this year than they would have received under the (proposal) they voted down,” he said.

District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said the administration made a fair offer.

“We left feeling somewhat optimistic because we did present a proposal to them. The proposal is being seriously considered.”

Culver said the two sides are scheduled to meet again at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. “It is our sincere hope that this matter will be resolved,” he said.

Meanwhile, the District 189 school board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, and Comerford predicted many parents and students would show up to express their displeasure over the strike, which was in its 14th day Tuesday.

Parents and students filled up the district parking lot and the nearby parking lot. Many were not let inside of the building because of fire code violations. The room inside was filled, with a few people stranding.

Instead of the regular board meeting being conducted, 35 parents and students, like a choir, lifted their voices singularly and blended together to call for an immediate end to the teachers strike.

Parents, elementary students, middle and high school students put out a clarion call to district leaders to do something different in their negotiation sessions because they said whatever they have been doing in the past has not worked.

Instead of talking, board members Kinnis Williams, Marquitta McAfee, Antonia Ingram, Irma Golliday, Victoria Clay, R. C. Clark and board President Lonzo Greenwood sat in silence and listened. At one point when a parent asked if any of them were moved in their hearts by what was being said to them, Greenwood said , “We are not going to get into a back and forth.”

There were passionate pleas from parents with special needs children. One mother asked district officials if they know special needs students rely on habit and doing things routinely. She said this three week interruption was having a huge impact on her daughter. The mother said she wants district officials to release her and the money her daughter brings to the district if a resolution can not be found quickly.

Frank Smith, a local activist, pleaded with Democratic leaders he voted for and worked to get elected to do something to end the strike immediately.

The Rev. Zachary Lee said he was giving the district two days before he and a host of pastors would return.

George Baker, a senior at East St. Louis Senior High School spoke eloquently and passionately. He said, “My education is important to me. It is the only way I can make it through. The world is changing. If I am to be able to make a healthy contribution, I need my education.

“I am losing my education. Teachers are losing their pay. And, the Board of Education is still making money. East St. Louis is known as the city of champions. We are champions on and off the court. We are champions off the court because we struggle through our daily lives and we always make it through. Our parents and our teachers are the ones here to support us. They are the ones struggling now and we are trying to find a solution,” Baker said.

Baker plans to become an aerospace engineer or math teacher. He is in the process of enlisting in the U.S. Navy Reserves. After spending a year in the Navy Reserves, Baker said he will be eligible for an Illinois Veterans grant, which will pay for his college. “All I want to do is learn. I want this strike to end now.”

Baker said what the teachers in the district go through is unlike any other district around. “The teachers earn their money, every penny of it. They deserve more than what they make because of what they have to go through.”

Baker wants the district “to give as much as it possibly can because education is priceless. If that means going broke, I can live with that.”

The Rev. Herman Watson said “every successful corporation has a board.” And, he said that board gives the person in charge directives. He asked the local elected board and appointed member on the board what they had to say about the students being out of school for as long as they have. “Your absence is a sign of consent,” Watson said. Each board member gave eye contact to each speaker. And clapped after they finished.

“We find funds for everything. We’ve got people we hire in that make more than the teachers. I believe the board has to put an end to this strike as soon as possible. I believe the people you locked outside can take some action,” Watson said.

One student said to board members, “You’re being stingy and stubborn. Our teachers keep us from committing suicide. They keep us from committing homicides.” Parents pointed to a sign that said “Children First,” which was on a wall behind the superintendent’s chair and facing the audience and said it was a hypocrisy.

Aunasia Nichols, a 10-year-old student at Dunbar Elementary said, “Our education matters. Our teachers matter to us. Make this meeting matter. Can you please put our teachers and students back in school?”

Culver came down from his seat after the meeting and met with parents in attempt to explain to them how the process works. He said he expects the strike to end soon. He said it saddened him to sit and listen to the parents and children. He said no one wants the students to be in school more than he.

Teachers on strike lines were not allowed to cross their strike line. They stood outside and shouted “Let our parents in.” Police officers were outside and inside the building to make sure everything remained calm. There were no incidents.