East St. Louis high school athletes resume practices

East St. Louis school strike is ongoing

East St. Louis schools teachers in district 189 are still on strike
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East St. Louis schools teachers in district 189 are still on strike

The East St. Louis District 189 Board of Education on Tuesday afternoon declared an emergency so that they could allow high school athletes to practice starting immediately.

Most of the coaches are not union members, so they can conduct practices, district leaders said. Illinois High School Association rules dictated that the board had to approve practice in order for it to resume. But, there are some union members who are coaches. Union Local 1220 President Sharon Crockett said it would mean crossing the picket lines if the union coaches participate in practice. But, she said that decision will be left to them.

The teams cannot compete as long as teachers remain on strike, but practice sessions will keep them from falling further behind.

The resolution passed 4-0 with the yea votes coming from board members, Marquita McAfee, Antonia Ingram, Victoria Clay and Lonzo Greenwood, president of the local board. Board members Irma Golliday and R.C. Clark, and Kinnis Williams were absent.

Superintendent Arthur Culver said district officials contacted the Illinois High School Association and “after discussion with officials from IHSA we thought it was in the best interest of the school district to allow athletic teams to practice. District Attorney Garrett Hoerner said IHSA prohibits students from competing in games when there is a strike going on in their district, but it does permit them to practice if certain conditions are met. The resolution passed by the local board cleared the way for the teams to practice.

Crockett said she’s happy that the children will be able to practice. But she said “We want to come back to work, too,” speaking of the striking members of Local 1220 who have been on picket lines for eight days, trying to commandeer an 11-step salary schedule rather than the 21-step schedule the district is proposing. The union continues to insist that the district has the money and can pay the increases. The district has steadfastly denied being able to give the teachers what they want without heaping even more of a tax burden on city residents who Culver said are already struggling to pay the huge taxes they have.

Union officials and district officials say they are available to meet and want to get the students back in school. What’s happening between them to get to a resolution?

Union Local 1220 had a meeting Tuesday afternoon at the union hall on Bunkum Road. Crockett said what has not been told to the public is “On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Rev. James Meeks, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) came down (from Chicago) and met with representatives from the union and the district and did an excellent job pushing both sides towards a settlement.

“When Superintendent Culver shook my hand, I thought we could work this out, but unfortunately, he went back to attacking the vote our members took.”

Crockett said she was “dumbfounded” when she received a text message from Meeks saying the district canceled the meeting that would have taken place Oct. 7.

Then directing her thoughts to Culver’s previous comments concerning some calls he said he received from teachers who he said told him they would like to have a second chance to vote on the tentative agreement, Crockett said Culver seemed to be implying that the members could not read. She said the way the district provided the information to the union negotiating team, it was taken to the union body “and they overwhelmingly rejected it.” She said Culver knows the process. It goes from the negotiating team to the executive council then to the union body, Crockett said.

“He needs to stop trying to dictate how our union runs and make negotiations his priority. He needs to respect the vote teachers and staff took. This is their union and they make the final decision,” Crockett said.

Speaking about the meeting between Meeks, district and union officials, Crockett said, “Using the district’s numbers, we agreed on the framework for a possible settlement that both sides shook hands on. In fact, Mr. Culver hugged me. Both sides were scheduled to get back together (the following day).” She said she was dumbfounded when she received a text message from Meeks telling her that Culver canceled the meeting.

Culver said, “After consultation with board president (Greenwood) and chair of the Financial Oversight Panel (Ranadore Foggs) and the chair of the finance committee, (Kinnis Williams), it was determined that the district’s negotiation committee cannot support the proposed resolution because it is beyond the financial parameters established by the Board of Education and the Financial Oversight Panel.”

“District leadership maintains its position that the tentative agreement reached by the parties remains fair and equitable to the union and financially responsible on behalf of the taxpayers.”

Culver said he made it clear at the meeting that he had to take the proposal back to his negotiating team, district negotiating team, the board president and the chairman of the Financial Oversight Panel.

Crockett said she hopes the meeting Wednesday will be fruitful and a resolution between the union and the district will be reached. But, for this to happen she said both sides have to come to the meeting, sit down and negotiate. “That’s what it’s going to take to get our kids back in school and playing sports,” she said. “You can’t come to a meeting and they’re (district officials) getting up with nothing. At the last meeting the mediator told us they’re getting ready to leave. We asked are there any other meetings set up and were told there were not,” Crockett said.

“They’ve got to come to the table and talk – not get up and walk out,”Crockett said.

Culver said neither he nor any of the others on his team have abruptly gotten up from the negotiating table.

“After we feel like we have nothing else to offer or discuss, we let them know we’re leaving so we can go back and reflect on our next course of action,” Culver said.

“We’ve presented a proposal to them and they’ve not countered yet,” Crockett said. “We’re still asking for an 11-step schedule,” she said.

Dave Comerford, legislative director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said, “even though we’ve been told the district’s team doesn’t have a new proposal to offer, we hope they will decide to make some genuine effort to settle the strike. Superintendent Culver and his team have refused to make a new proposal since the strike started. Their priority needs to be on reaching an agreement and getting our students back in school.”

Culver said, “Time is of the essence. It’s time to put the personal attacks and innuendos aside and focus on hammering out an agreement that both sides can live with so we can get our students back in school.”

The meeting is set for Wednesday afternoon.