Evergreen Park talks down to the wire, teachers may strike - FOX 32 News Chicago

Evergreen Park contract talks down to the wire, teachers may strike

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EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Parents of students who attend the five schools in Evergreen Park School District 124 figure to be on pins and needles Monday night, wondering whether their children are going to school Tuesday.

A crowd of 200 Evergreen Park teachers and supporters rallied for a "fair contract" outside Central Jr. High school before teachers union representatives for last minute negotiations with the school board.

If there's an agreement, school will be in session for about 1,800 students Tuesday. If there's not, teachers plan to be walking the picket line by 8:15 a.m. outside each of the five schools.

Negotiations began in April. Two marathon sessions were held last week, and the two sides have not met since Wednesday.

Before Wednesday's meeting, Tony Demma, a teacher at Southeast School and a member of the union's negotiating team, said the teachers "absolutely do not want that (strike) ... we will do what we have to to get this done."

The Evergreen Park school district has 16 million dollars in its reserve fund and neither side has agreed on how the money should be used.

The main sticking points of the negotiations are teacher's salary and health care. The union wants a guaranteed 9.6% wage increase over a three-year contract. In it's offer, the school board guarantees a 5.5% raise for teachers salaries. For health care, the teachers want the school board to continue its 90% contribution to a single premium and 75% to a family premium, but the school wants to eliminate contributions.

On Tuesday, union members voted 147 to 1 against accepting the school board's latest contract offer.

Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a veteran of contract negotiations, said Friday he has no gut feeling of what will happen.

"I just don't know. It's hard to get a feel for what is going on here," Comerford said.

He does know the union will try to get the word out as quickly as possible regarding what happens Monday night.

"Once you get past 10:30 p.m., that's the latest as far as TV (news) goes," he said.

The union and district plan to send news releases to the media, and updates will be posted on the district's website, which has been keeping parents up to date regarding contract negotiations.

The website on Friday featured suggestions for parents about what to do about their kids if there is a strike. For activity ideas and tips for learning resources, visit www.d124.org/index_accesswork.html.

Parents can find lesson plans for each grade level on the district's website as well.

There are not a lot of full-day options for parents who have to work.

The Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., will host a daylong art camp from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays for students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but needs a minimum of 20 students. The fee is $40 for arts center members and $50 for nonmembers, according to the website, and children must bring their own lunch. For more information, call (773) 445-3838.

Students in grades five through eight can play arcade games, table tennis, pool or Wii from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at the Evergreen Park recreation department's community center, 3450 W. 97th St.

The Evergreen Public Library, 9400 S. Troy Ave., will offer hands-on crafts for all ages, and computer games for students in grades six through eight. Children age 9 and under must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call (708) 422-8522.

Those in need of early or late care can call St. Bernadette's Catholic Academy, 9311 S. Francisco Ave., which is offering an extended-day program from 6 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. The number is (708) 422-6429.

Evergreen Park has four elementary schools and one middle school, with a total of 135 teachers and 70 support staff who could go on strike.

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