At least 100 residents attended a "Town Meeting" hosted by the District 46 School Board Tuesday to hear the district and union's best and final contract offers, ask questions and voice concerns for what happens next.
"What are we supposed to do when the teachers go on strike?"
"Is it all about money or what's best for my child?"
"What can we do as parents to help?"
These were just a few of the questions raised by parents at the meeting who thanked the board for hosting the forum but also expressed a strong desire for the union to afford the community the same opportunity for dialogue.
D46 Supt. Ellen Correll said she would relay to the union that parents are interested in a meeting of their own, to hear their side, but it would be the union's prerogative to have a sit down with the community.
The school board says the ball is in the union's court where contract proposals are concerned, but the district is willing to return to the table for further discussion prior to the Jan. 16 strike date set by the union last month.
"There has got to be some give and take, said Ray Millington, board president. "We are waiting for a response to our proposal. We have left the door open."
Since contract negotiations began last February, there have been 12 sessions between the union and district and four sessions with a federal mediator present.
The last negotiating session was held Nov. 28, at which time both sides presented their best and final offers. There was some give, but no takers. No other sessions have been scheduled.
The district has agreed to a two-year teacher contract, but is holding firm on instituting a salary freeze with no step or lane changes. However, the board has offered to give all certified staff who have not submitted a notice to retire a $1,000 stipend in year two, which would cost the district about $300,000.
Initially, the union proposed a 3 percent salary increase for both contract years.
Teachers now agree to continue working at their current 2011-12 salary schedule for next school year, but they want lane change compensation paid in February 2013, which would cost $200,000, and two salary steps scheduled for Sept. 2013 and March 2014, which would cost $750,000, according to the district.
There is no money to give teachers pay raises, said officials. The budget already has a $1.2 million deficit that will only increase if teacher salaries are increased, said Anna Kasprzyk, chief school business official. The increased tax levy won't relieve the deficit either, she advised. In fact, the district could reach a negative fund balance in 2018.
The union contends teacher salaries are already below average in comparison to other area districts, and that the district can afford to pay raises given the $8.2 million surplus it reported to the Illinois State Board of Education.
According to the board, the district will see a $1.45 million reduction in general state aid compared with 2012, and federal grant revenue is anticipated to decrease by about 25 percent. The board says it has no other sources of revenue to pay teacher salary increases, nor does it have any available long-term borrowing capacity.
Throughout the meeting, parents voiced their concerns, frustrated that they could not have such a dialogue with the union.
"I fully support teachers. The vast majority are excellent," said one parent. "But things are really tight right now. When was the last time teachers did not get a raise?"
This question drew chuckles from the audience. "As far as I know, it's never happened," said Correll.
Other parents asked questions about the fallout from a strike. They questioned whether striking teachers would still be paid, how missed days would be made up, and whether buildings would be open and staffed with non-certified employees.
Striking teachers would not be paid, said the board, and what the district will do about missed days has yet to be determined.
The state's legal minimum requirement for a school year is 176 instructional days. Each day lost and not made up equates to a $34,000-a-day loss of state funds, said Kasprzyk.
In the event of a strike, the board said non-certified staff would not be working either.
Correll said she has reached out to the district's Champions childcare program, which agreed to offer programs from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Meadowview and Prairieview schools for $33 per day, per student, a price some parents balked at.
Some parents also urged the board to make a move and request more talks at the table, once a week until the strike date, if necessary.
"We want to do everything we can to avoid a strike," assured Millington.
The board plans to host a second town meeting on Jan. 9.