By Ben Velderman
EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. – And then there were three. The Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers decided to go on strike about 10:30 p.m. Monday night, making it the third teachers union in Illinois to walk out on students so far this school year.
And the school year is only about one month old.
The EPFT made its decision after last-minute talks failed to produce a new contract, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
A group of teachers, parents and children gathered outside the meeting site last night to cheer on union negotiators.
Parent Ray Richter spoke for many EPFT supporters when he suggested that school officials dip into the district’s savings account to pay out annual raises to teachers (about 3 percent), paraprofessionals (about 10 percent) and secretaries (about 8 percent).
“With the money the school district has, they can afford to give the teachers a little,” Richter told the Sun-Times.
The union and its supporters are fixated on the $16 million the district has tucked away in its savings account, which is mostly earmarked for necessary building repairs and maintenance throughout the district.
But instead of thanking school leaders for planning ahead, the EPFT and its supporters are demanding that officials empty the district’s wallet for pay raises and top-notch health insurance benefits.
If school leaders give in and deplete the savings account, the district may be caught financially unprepared when another budget crisis hits Illinois.
On a positive note, not all parents are supporting the union’s decision to strike.
“I have to laugh. This is our first year in the public school system, and the teachers will be on strike,” said parent Amy Goggin. “Welcome to the public schools.”
Goggin is finding out how much power the teacher unions have over Illinois’ public schools, and she doesn’t seem impressed.
But since Illinois lawmakers refuse to ban teacher strikes, Goggin and other parents will be subjected to even more walkouts in the coming months and years, should the economy continue to struggle and school budgets continue to shrink.
If residents don’t demand better, Illinois may soon pass Pennsylvania as the “Teacher Strike Capital of the United States.”