A presumed strike in East St. Louis District 189 would mean no school for more than 6,100 students in grades K-12 and no football games as district officials and members of the teacher union continue negotiations.
Superintendent Arthur Culver said in the interest of transparency, the district released on its website the tentative agreement that the teacher union signed and agreed to recommend to members to accept, a question-and-answer document, a cost summary, and a letter to parents and stakeholders in East St. Louis.
Culver said the district had hoped to avoid a strike. He wants parents and teachers to “look at the tentative agreement” and gain a better understanding. “I hope they will reconsider then approve the tentative agreement that the negotiating and executive team approved,” he said.
The teacher union voted to reject the tentative agreement on Tuesday and strike on Thursday.
“If the negotiating team comes to an agreement with district officials, they sign the agreement, but the final say so has to come from the (union) body,” said Sharon Crockett, president of the teacher union, Local 1220. “It goes from the negotiating team to the executive council to the body.”
Crockett believes the district has money. “If they froze us for three years, what did that do to the budget?” she asked.
However, she said the strike is not all about money. “It’s about the morale of the teachers and students,” Crockett said. “If the teachers are not happy, the students are not happy. What it all boils down to, education is about the teachers and the students.”
Culver said district and state officials met with Crockett and their negotiating team and the union executive team from 10 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
“As we were walking out some union members were walking in. They didn’t really have a chance to look at the agreement, questions and answers,” Culver said. “There is no change in health insurance; no change in class size limits; and they received raises. The average raise was 2.6 percent for teachers. In addition, we offered them a $2,000 stipend for last year.”
Culver believes the agreement is “a fair and equitable offer to the union. We do appreciate the valuable contributions of the teachers and support staff,” he said. “But, we have to be mindful of the district’s obligations to be fiscally responsible to our residents, stakeholders and taxpayers. We don’t want to get the district on an unsustainable course.”
District 189 has a salary schedule that has 11 steps for teachers. “All other districts in our area have an average of 23 steps. We offered a schedule that is 21 steps for teachers, which is still less than other districts in our area,” Culver said. “We’ve come a long way from where we were two weeks ago or even last week. We can not sustain that 11 step salary schedule. But everybody got a raise.”
Details of tentative agreement
The tentative agreement included a contract term through June 30, 2018; a one-time, non-compounding stipend of $2,000 for certified bargaining unit members and $1,000 for non-certified bargaining unit members for last school year; and a one-step advancement on a revised salary schedule for the current school year and each of the next two school years with an average salary increase of 2.6 percent for certified bargaining unit members and 1.5 percent for non-certified bargaining unit members.
It also included an additional 2 percent increase to the top step of the revised salary schedules for certified bargaining unit members and non-certified bargaining unit members for members already at the top of the salary schedule.
The estimated total cost of the tentative agreement for the district is $5 million, according to information provided by District 189 officials.
The tentative agreement included no change in health insurance coverage; severance pay for accumulated sick leave; class size maximums; professional work day or staff meetings.
Impact on athletics
If the teachers strike on Thursday, it means no Friday night football game, according to district officials. Illinois High School Association rules prohibit athletics to continue in a district where teachers are on strike.
The Flyers are scheduled to host Edwardsville on Friday night.
“I really feel sorry for our football players and other athletes — all of them. Because some of them are seniors and not being able to finish the season could be the difference in them receiving a scholarship to go to college or not,” Culver said. “For the benefit of the education of our students, I hope that this issue gets resolved quickly.”
How do students feel?
High school students in support and against a teacher’s strike left class Wednesday morning and walked together from the school to East St. Louis District 189 building to let administrators hear their voices.
Many of the voices were in support of the teachers, but there were some voices raised that were against the strike that is slated to kick off at 7 a.m. Thursday.
Mackenzie Gatlin said the teachers’ strike in District 189 is not good news for her.
“I really don’t like it. I am supposed to graduate May 15. I don’t want to have to stay in school longer because of this strike. I hope they get this contract in less than two weeks,” she said. “It’s more than just our education that’s being interrupted. It’s our sports, too. Some people have been working their whole lives to get a chance for a recruiter to see them.”
Another student, Nautica Hendricks, said: “My feeling is ... how is this going to affect us? How will we get out of East St. Louis and go to college? No college will want us if we’ve been out of school for a long time.”
Edgar Jones, a sophomore, said he feels the strike is “pointless. It could have been avoided. The teachers let the district know a long time ago that they needed more money. I think they deserve it,” Edgar said. “We’re missing our education while every other school districts are in school.”
Trinity Brown, a student council member, said: “They’ve been talking about the teachers’ contracts for a long time. They have asked the board for additional pay. We pay a lot of money to get into student activities. The teachers should be getting paid.”
Shaneka Roberson, a sophomore at East St. Louis Senior High School, said the teachers are supposed to be in classrooms teaching the students but instead are going on strike.
“What about our futures? How can we have a future without a good education? When we graduate and go off to successful careers, our job is to take care of the elderly,” Shaneka said. “How can we do anything if we can’t stay in school and get our education? I am not happy. This is ignorant. If they would’ve raised the teachers’ contracts five years ago, we wouldn’t have what’s going on right now.”
Parents weigh in
Leiya Scruggs has a son, Trevor Williams, who is a sophomore at East St. Louis Senior High. She said, “I am in agreement with the children. I am for the children. Anything for the children to keep them off the streets and learning.
Her grandmother Mayme Metcalf, said, “I am not feeling good at all about this strike. Our children need to learn. Education is important. They need all of the education they can get.”
Okketta Ali, the parent of a ninth-grader who plays football, said, “The district and the governor are saying Illinois is struggling for money. Teachers are coming into District 189 from other states and are getting paid. They want the teachers who are from here and who have been working a long time in the district not to be paid the same. We don’t work for free anymore.”
Shaletta Nelson, a parent and school bus driver said: “Our teachers really deserve the money they want. They are not asking for much. They got millions of dollars in scholarships for the students who attend school in District 189.”
Asked whether she has confidence in the superintendent, Nelson said she does.
“I have confidence in the superintendent, but I want them to give the teachers what they are asking for,” she said. “It’s not much.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503