By Ashleigh Costello

GRAYSLAKE, Ill. – Grayslake Elementary District 46 school board members are scheduled to hold another town hall meeting to keep the public informed about a threatened teachers strike, but union officials have refused to attend.

nopublicaccessThe Lake County Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union, has said that it plans to strike by Jan. 16 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not negotiated by then.

About 120 community members attended the first town hall session on Dec. 11 in an effort to learn more about the district’s finances, contract negotiations and the possible use of replacement teachers in the event of a walkout, reports the Daily Herald.

District 46 officials said the union declined an invitation to attend the upcoming session, despite public wishes to the contrary.

Union representative Jim Pergander said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to hold any town hall meetings or send representatives to the meeting next week.

“I believe we’ll just let it be the district’s show,” Pergander said.

The school district has been in contract negotiations with the teachers union since last February.  While both sides have agreed to a two-year contract, compensation remains a sticking point.

Under the district’s most recent proposal, teachers would not receive annual base salary raises but would be eligible for a $1,000 stipend for the 2013-14 school year if they have not submitted a retirement notice, according to the news site.

School board candidate Paul Sprenger said teachers should realize the district is in financial difficulty and they are threatening to strike at a time when many taxpayers are struggling to pay their bills.

“I really appreciate what the teachers do,” Sprenger said. “I think they put their hearts out for their jobs, but they all have to realize that from an economic standpoint, this community cannot afford to do what it is doing.”

The district is currently seeking replacement teachers to work on a temporary basis should a strike occur.

The town hall session is scheduled for Jan. 9, but there is no word on when district and union officials will meet again to continue contract  talks.

In the meantime, nervous parents and other citizens would be better served if the union would follow the school board’s lead and provide information about its contract demands.

The school board should be commended for breaking with standard practice and letting the people know what’s going on. But without the union’s participation, it will be difficult for citizens to judge whether the district can afford to meet union demands.

Perhaps the silence is an indicator that union officials don’t believe the public would support those demands. If that’s the case, perhaps the union should reconsider its wish list before negotiations begin again.

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