Teachers went on strike beginning Thursday, October 1 in East St Louis School District 189, and the two sides appeared poised for a protracted stalemate, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. A strike by teachers in East St Louis in 1997 lasted for 24 days.
While the district says it needs to be fiscally responsible, the teachers’ union says the district has money to spare, verified by budget documents filed with the Illinois State Board of Education.
“[District 189 Superintendent Art] Culver was not in the room to hear the debate, but if he had been, he would have no doubt that our members spoke passionately against his proposal and then they voted overwhelmingly against it,” the paper quoted Illinois Federation of Teachers legislative director Dave Comerford as saying.
Describing that proposal, Mr Culver and Lonzo Greenwood, the board’s president, wrote, “Simply put, to do otherwise would not be fiscally responsible and would set the district on an unsustainable financial course. The district has made significant strides since ISBE intervention in 2011, and certainly wishes that such progress could continue unimpeded.”
But regardless of whether the district or union is right on this one, the sticking point in this strike is money, which is common in impoverished school districts in Illinois.
That problem underscores the need to reconsider Illinois’s school funding formula so that it provides needier districts with more money. That extra money, provided for schools in other states, at least at the discretion of governors or other state officials, is seen in Maryland as somewhat of an “extra money” fund for the neediest districts. Having something like that in Illinois would render claims of fiscal irresponsibility immaterial.
But alas, there’s no time to redo the state’s funding formula for kids in East St Louis during this strike. It’s something to consider down the road, though. Either that, or just make strikes by teachers illegal, as they are in 37 states.
East St Louis Senior High School serves more than 1,500 students, with 99.6 percent being listed as “low-income” students, according to the Illinois School Report Card. That number, however, reflects a recent change in the federal reporting requirements, which has made all students in the district eligible for free lunch.
In a show of support, students walked out of the high school Wednesday, the day before the strike, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The total enrollment in the district’s 11 schools, including two middle schools, five elementary schools, a kindergarten-only school, and two charter high schools, which are not affected by the strike, is about 6,150. The district employs the equivalent of 347 full-time teachers and also runs a ninth-grade center, an alternative school, and the St Clair County Juvenile Detention Center.
Final offers were posted to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board on September 15:
We provide these links simply for the record, as the IELRB will remove them in a year or two. These “final offers” are required at least two weeks before any strike authorization vote by the teachers’ union, but the language doesn’t reflect any continuing negotiations.
Out of concern that students might not get nutritious meals at home while teachers are on strike, District 189 Superintendent Art Culver announced that students would be bused to their buildings to receive a free breakfast and then given a lunch bag to take home.
“Although we hope to come to an agreement and our normal operations will resume soon, we must acknowledge our commitment to ‘children first’ and provide our students with alternative services during the interruption of the regular school schedule,” he wrote in a letter to parents announcing the free meals.
In addition, the district has provided a list of community centers in the area that can help students during the strike. Services available include enrichment activities, lunch, snacks, and extended programming hours.
The high school football team, known for years as one of the state’s best teams and often ranked in the USA Today high school football rankings, was forced to forfeit their October 2 game against Edwardsville. Their next game, scheduled for Friday, October 9, is against Belleville East. East St Louis has won in this matchup for the last three years, with a combined score of 128-31. It would be a shame to forfeit this one.