No deal, no school again in East St. Louis

Striking East St. Louis teachers Jeff Schneider, Josh Cummins and Paul Thies on Wednesday walk the picket line in front of East St. Louis Senior High School.
Striking East St. Louis teachers Jeff Schneider, Josh Cummins and Paul Thies on Wednesday walk the picket line in front of East St. Louis Senior High School.

No deal again in East St. Louis School District 189 as the teacher strike concludes its third week.

The sides met from 1:30 p.m. until 5:40 p.m. Wednesday without coming to a settlement. Sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

The strike has continued since Oct. 1, with teachers demanding more money and only 11 steps until they reach the top of the salary scale. The district wants a 21-step salary schedule, which pays teachers incrementally more for each year of experience and for each academic degree.

Superintendent Arthur Culver said after the meeting that Union Local 1220 presented the district’s negotiating team with two proposals. But two members of the district’s negotiation team had other meetings that started at 6 p.m. away from the area, so the meeting was stopped. However, both sides will be back at the table at 1 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Friday.

“We have to have time to look at what they’ve presented, digest it and analyze the financial commitment,” Culver said.

He also said the district presented a new proposal and option to the union Wednesday. One was a new proposal and the other was the option “for the union to accept and ratify the tentative agreement that was signed by all parties,” Culver said.

Union spokesman David Comerford said, “In another attempt to reach a compromise and end the strike, the union made a new proposal today. We worked hard on this proposal for most of the afternoon. We appreciate the patience of the district’s team while we worked on this. We felt it was the right thing to do.

“The district’s team said they will review our proposal,” Comerford said.

Working mothers and other parents in District 189 told district officials at the school board meeting Tuesday night that they are not comfortable with their children not being in school and they are at work. Their frustrations were clear. Those who spoke said they want an end to the strike immediately so the teachers can return to their classrooms and the children can return to the district.

Michael Parks walked to the podium and at first was overcome by his emotions. He said he feels the students are being used as pawns “and I am angry about that. It’s all about ego. I get emotional when it comes to my kids.”

Standing with him was his son, whom he described as a senior who is in the top five in his class. “He is an honor student with a GPA of 4.75. He said he was a football and basketball player. He is in just about every club at the school. He wants to learn. He wants to be in school,” Parks said. He said he and his wife are college graduates. He is a native East St. Louisan, and he said he came back to make a difference. He said his daughter, Ebony Parks, graduated with honors and is doing well at Jackson State University.

“A lot of pride comes out of this city. East St. Louis use to be a village. Everybody reached out for each other. Our motto was we are all we have. If a person got in trouble, a neighbor could discipline you until your parents got home. Some people have forgotten where they came from,” Parks said.

Martha Young, who has 10 grandchildren in the district, told board members there was a problem with the board and the administrator (Culver). “I have been in East St. Louis 79 years, soon to be 80. I don’t like what I see. We have a problem with the nonfunctioning board and the disrespectful administrator. You were elected by the people and you should answer to the people. When we ask questions, answer us. I asked you if any of you are on the negotiating team. You haven’t answered. I asked you did you try to get on the team. No answer.”

She then said, “I was really angered by some comments I read that came out of an ISBE board meeting. I felt the comments he made about the teachers were way off base. We have some of the best teachers around. I would put them up against anybody. And then in the same meeting, Mr. Culver made some disparaging remarks about our parents. I feel he belittled and degraded our parents. I just want them to get our kids back in school. They need that socialization as well as the education they get at school.”

She told the board to close all of the buildings as long as the teachers and students are not there. Culver said after the meeting that he can not close the buildings because others are continuing to work like the janitors and administrators who have to get things done. They are not a part of Union Local 1220.

Culver talked to parents afterward who wanted to know why the district can’t give the teachers what they want. He told them that another union, Local 382, which consists of custodians, clerks and others, still must negotiate a contract with the district. “We have to have some money for them. And, they will be looking at what we do with the teacher’s union,” he said.

Several parents talked of transferring their children to other districts if the strike goes on much longer. Some said they had tried to get transcripts and were not able to. Culver said they are able to get transcripts.

Culver confirmed that some students have transferred from the district. But, he said this is something that happens every year.

Temiko Handy is one of those parents who said she is leaving the district if a resolution doesn’t come soon.

Pastor Jerome Rogers, of New Shining Light thanked the board for doing something the pastors have been trying to do for a long time ... bringing parents and the community together. He raised his voice in urgency as he talked about the importance of getting the students back in school now.

Culver said he and the district’s negotiating team want the strike to end as quickly as possible, but the district can not and will not agree to something it knows it can not afford. He is hopeful, he said, that the upcoming meetings will bring about a resolution that both sides can live with.