By Ben Velderman
EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. – School leaders from all across America, take note: Officials in Illinois’ Evergreen Park School District 124 are showing you the right way to handle a teachers strike.
Before members of the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers announced their walkout late Monday night, board members informed them that missed days would not be made up, a move that might end up costing teachers a good portion of their salary, reports WLS-TV.
“We did not threaten anything, but part of our final proposal was that missed days would not be made up,” said Kathy Rohan, Evergreen Park school board president. “If all the days are automatically made up, the kids are losing, and the people walking out on their jobs are not because their final pay at end of year would not be affected.”
Here’s how it would work: The district gets five emergency days a year from the state. If teachers end their strike before those days are used up, the district will not lose any per-pupil state aid and teachers will not lose any pay, reports the Evergreen Park Patch.
However, if the strike exceeds five days, teachers will not be paid for make-up days that students would need to satisfy Illinois’ 176-day attendance requirements, the Patch reports.
“If teachers come back Thursday this is a non-issue,” Superintendent Robert Machak told the news site. “You are paid to be in school in the classroom. I you voluntarily choose to walk out from that responsibility, why would you be paid for that?”
Machak said he’d “need to meet with the board regarding a contingency plan if the strike lasted more than a month.
“I hope it wouldn’t go that long,” he said. “At some point we may need to consider bringing in substitutes.”
The board may consider “a plan to offer alternative enrichment summer school programs taught by substitutes and volunteers to help students make up lost days,” reports the Patch.
District officials are taking a hardline with the union because caving in to the it’s contract demands would be too costly, both in terms of dollars and control of how the district operates.
The two sides have been wrangling over a new contract since their previous pact expired in June. Part of the stalemate has been over finances: Union members are demanding annual pay raises for teachers (about 3 percent), paraprofessionals (about 10 percent) and secretaries (about 8 percent) and no changes to their health insurance. The board is offering more modest pay raises (about 5.5 percent for each group) and wants EPFT members to help shoulder their health insurance costs.
The other point of disagreement is over the district’s plan to link teacher evaluations to student test scores. EPFT members are using the standard union argument that state test scores are an imperfect measurement of learning, and that holding teachers accountable for such scores is unfair.
But the board isn’t backing down, which has caught some union members by surprise.
“This is very upsetting. We shouldn’t be out here. We should be teaching,” teacher Eileen Gorman told ABC7 Chicago. “You can’t roll over and let them take everything from you without a fight.”
Evergreen taxpayers will find out how much fight is in the union once teachers start surrendering their paycheck in order to protest the new evaluations and the 5.5 percent pay raises the district is offering.
Our guess is that the Evergreen Park school board has called EFPT’s bluff and the strike will soon be over. And that would be welcomed news to Superintendent Machak.
“It has been a frustrating start to the school year,” Machak told the Patch. “Beginning with so many distractions, missing days and not making up days, ribbons in trees and teachers wearing the same colored shirts. It’s time taken away from the ultimate purpose of why we’re here.”