Education

No signs East St. Louis teachers’ strike will end

East St. Louis teachers walk picket in front of the East St. Louis Senior HIgh School last week. At right is is Debra Humphrey-Morgan, coordinator of Career & Technical Education. She has been an educator about 25 years.
East St. Louis teachers walk picket in front of the East St. Louis Senior HIgh School last week. At right is is Debra Humphrey-Morgan, coordinator of Career & Technical Education. She has been an educator about 25 years. News-Democrat

Teachers hit the picket lines for the sixth day in a row Thursday, and there are no signs that their union leaders or district officials are planning to schedule another negotiation meeting.

Kelli Hawkins, a spokeswoman for District 189, said the East Side Flyers’ football game against Belleville East has been cancelled, and there will be no classes Friday.

The football Flyers will have to forfeit their second game in as many weeks. Last week, undefeated Edwardsville benefited with an added win. This week, Belleville East would improve to 5-2 without playing. The East St. Louis forfeits could have further impact on playoff chances for Belleville West as well.

Meanwhile, a homecoming dance was held Wednesday night at City Hall for students who would otherwise be missing out on those festivities.

District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver is standing firm on what he called the district’s “best and final offer” in a tentative agreement signed by the two parties. That tentative agreement was voted down by the union body when it was presented to them.

The teachers’ strike began as classrooms were closed and teachers put on their walking shoes and took their fight to the street. They want raises, and the district said they want to give them raises. But, the sticking point on both sides is how much money the raises will cost the district.

Culver said it is a stretch to pay the teachers using a 21-step schedule that he and his team has put before Union Local 1220 as a contract offer. The union says the district has money, and they want an 11-step salary schedule. Teachers are upset it has taken the district so long to come to an amicable agreement with them.

Culver said it saddens him that instead of taking what he felt was “a fair and equitable contract,” the teachers decided to pick up signs and walk picket lines, preventing the 6,100 students in the district from going to their classes, having athletic games and participating in after-school activities.

Stalemate over number of steps in salary schedule: District wants 21-step schedule and teachers in Union Local 1220 want 11-step salary schedule

The district had gotten off to a great start this school year, Culver said, and he was looking forward to what this school year would produce. This interruption — the teachers’ strike — is a setback, and Culver said he does not know where it will end up.

But one thing is certain, he said: “We emptied our pockets. We didn’t want this strike. Union Local 1220 thinks we’re rich. They have unrealistic expectations. They want 3 percent raise increases and step.”

The average step increase is 5 percent, and the highest step increase is 7 percent, according to the district. Culver said the average raise would be 8 percent, and the highest raise would be 10 percent.

“I will not be intimidated into recommending a contract that I know the district can not sustain,” he said.

Culver said district officials remain willing and ready to meet with union officials anytime they want to meet. He said he just wants to get back to the job he is supposed to be doing — making sure the children in the district get the best education possible.

Union leaders say they are ready to get back to the negotiating table anytime. They said the district is not being truthful when it says it can not afford to meet the demands of the union.

I will not be intimidated into recommending a contract that I know the district can not sustain.

Arthur Culver, superintendent of East St. Louis District 189

East St. Louis teachers union president Sharon Crockett previously said district officials never told them they do not have the money. In fact, she and Dave Comerford, legislative director of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, continue to say the district can afford to give the union the contract they want. They said the district has a fund balance of between $30 and $36 million.

Some of the teachers who are on the picket lines want a quick resolution, because they say they live paycheck to paycheck and have to pay for child care, mortgages, car and student loans but are willing to strike for as long as it takes to get a fair contract.

Culver has said the district doesn’t want to further burden taxpayers in East St. Louis who pay 10.83 percent property taxes. He said the $30 million fund balance is only enough money to cover district operating expenses for four months.

While the strike is going on, staff from the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Upward Bound program is picking up students at 10 a.m. and bringing them to the East St. Louis center from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and providing them with lunch. Starting at 1 p.m., students can leave and be taken home by Upward Bound staff or they can remain for the normal starting time for the program, which is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The SIUE Upward Bound in East St. Louis is a college preparatory program that provides free tutoring and other quality services to prepare students for success. Students meet after school during the school year and all day during the summer months. The program serves students in Cahokia, East St. Louis, Brooklyn and Madison.

Javonda Quinn, program director for Upward Bound said: “It’s important to open our doors to students, because it gives them a secure place to go to as well as an opportunity to participate in our enrichment program.”

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503

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