Concerns about everything but students

Strikers continue to march and sit on the sidewalk Tuesday in front of East St. Louis Senior High School.
Strikers continue to march and sit on the sidewalk Tuesday in front of East St. Louis Senior High School. snagy@bnd.com

The 6,100 students in East St. Louis School District 189 have now been out of school for two weeks and a day, and the teachers’ union gave us a clear idea of the urgency with which they are seeking an end to the strike: There is no urgency.

Superintendent Arthur Culver said the district reached out on Saturday through a federal mediator to the teachers union. They heard nothing for two days from the union.

At least the union folks interrupted their not working by getting back to the district on their Columbus Day holiday.

District leaders for two weeks have said there is nothing more to give, which is what “final and best offer” meant before the strike started. The only surprise from this week’s negotiating sessions was that the union leadership acted surprised the district did not come up with any new money.

We have repeatedly heard from the teachers union leadership about the district’s need to understand the “process,” about who got up first from the negotiating table and about the district leaders failing to put forth more money. Note to them: Nobody cares about anything but getting kids back in school without bankrupting the community.

Culver said he can’t and won’t agree to the union’s demands because the tax base is weak. Putting even more strain on the community with the state’s highest property tax rate would drive even more people out of town. That is a very real threat with long-range ramifications for teachers and the community.

Teachers have had two weeks to study the contract and disclose any secret pots of money the district is hiding. They need to call another contract vote and decide whether they can live with being some of the area’s highest-paid teachers.

As for the district leaders, we understand the importance of sports and why they cleared the way Tuesday for teams to practice during the strike, but that doesn’t seem to be the highest priority at the moment. If Culver is right that this strike could go weeks or months, district leaders must get kids back in school soon. That may mean hiring temporary teachers or eventually replacements, a step that ended strikes in Homer and Round Lake, Ill.