Friday marked the 11th missed school day of a teachers’ strike in East St Louis School District 189 and the third football game forfeited by the Flyers of East St Louis Senior High School, eliminating the team from any chance of making the IHSA playoffs.
Teachers will be paid on October 30, but because of how the payroll is distributed, that will be their last full paycheck unless the strike ends soon. There is every indication that the strike, which began on October 1, a Thursday, will linger on past the three-week mark. If teachers don’t return to work, many employees will only receive a partial paycheck on November 15, and then nothing after that until they return to work.
“It’s a gamble, but you have to stand up for what you believe in,” the St Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Alonzo Nelson, a high school math teacher, as saying. “Everyone knows where [the teachers] stand. Negotiation is about compromise, and right now, the superintendent and his party have refused to move off of their initial contract offer.”
As of Friday, no further bargaining meeting had been scheduled, and the strike appears headed for record territory, because the most contentious issue is the length of time it would take new teachers to reach the top of the salary scale. Teachers have been working without a contract for more than four years, but under the old contract, a new teacher in District 189 would have to teach for 11 years, assuming no salary freezes occurred, to reach the top pay grade on the step grid teachers commonly use.
The current proposal from the district, led by Superintendent Arthur Culver, would save the district an estimated $10 million over 10 years and includes a $2,000 stipend and raises for teachers averaging 2.6 percent. But it would almost double the number of step increases, which are typically given every year except in the case of a salary freeze, to get to the top of the salary schedule.
Doing a little math is critical here. First, the current contract proposal from the district would give teachers a raise right now plus a nominal bonus payment. That’s money in the bank, which is much better than the district has been able to deliver in the past, having frozen salaries for several years running.
If providing a longer pay schedule—21 years instead of 11—will make it more likely that the district will be able to give teachers a raise every year, instead of freezing salaries year after year, I think this is a win-win.
The district saves money and increases the likelihood it will keep its promise to teachers. The teachers get a raise now and a better chance of getting annual raises in the future. Whether union negotiators realize it or not, most of us don’t make life decisions based on how much money we’ll make over the course of a career; we live our lives according to the amount we’ll make in the near future.
This proposal may sacrifice career-long earnings, but there’s a very good chance those amounts wouldn’t have materialized anyway, either because teachers moved to another district or because the district was unable to come up with the money.
However, as one grandparent of students in the district points out, the strike will go on until parents say, “Enough is enough!”
“When parents say it’s time for our babies to get back in school, the union and the district will get back to the table and negotiate until it gets worked out,” the Belleville News-Democrat quoted Martha Young, whose grandchildren attend District 189 schools, as saying.
In her opinion, the salary freezes that have continued over the last four years should have allowed the district to amass funds that should be paid to teachers. The city manager, Alvin Parks, told the News-Democrat that the strike has hurt the community:
I can’t tell you how much of a negative the strike has on the entire community. Kids are running in and out of stores and, in some cases, are not doing the right thing. I pray and hope for all of the teachers at the district, the administration, and anybody who’s not a teacher who’s affiliated with the union, that everybody can come together and stay together until the situation is resolved.
They were out for two months [in 1970, when Mr Parks was a fourth grader in the district]. It was the worst school year of my life. I knew I was supposed to be in school doing the things I needed to do. I got behind.
They [students] need constant reinforcement of academics and guidelines. When you are not getting it, you are being crippled.
Parents, the time is now: Get your kids back in school, under the care of good teachers who are justly compensated for their profession.