A teachers strike in the Alton School District has likely been averted, and a new two-year contract for teachers is one step closer to being approved.
At a special meeting Friday morning, the school board's finance committee tentatively approved a counter proposal from the Alton Education Association, which is representing district teachers.
The main sticking points in contract negotiations had been salaries and teacher contributions to health insurance premiums.
According to the union's website, the last contract offered by the district for the current school year would for the first time require employees to pay toward their health insurance premiums. Those costs would double in the following school year.
"Alton School District employees are already one of the lowest paid school employees within Madison County and the members soundly rejected any Board proposal that opened the door to ever-increasing insurance premium payments," the AEA's website said on Oct. 28.
But following a meeting with a federal mediator Thursday night, finance committee director Chris Norman said the board feels "comfortable" with the tentative agreement offered by the union, despite fiscal pressures.
"It's one of those things where the board administration definitely respects the job that our teachers and staff are doing, but we also have to do everything within financial constraints and try to be fiscally responsible," he said.
Norman also said that a strike was never imminent. He said while negotiations went "late," the union never submitted its notice to strike. The AEA had only voted to authorize union leaders to issue a "10-day notice to strike," but the union said no strike date had been set. Because of an additional procedure after that, Norman said the soonest a strike could have come would have been another three weeks or so.
But both parties also wanted to avoid affecting education for the district's about 6,300 students, Norman said.
"There's a lot of pressure on school districts now, and the teachers certainly are feeling it. Evaluation procedures have changed and a lot of that is new this year, but, yeah, ultimately your goal is to provide the best program and services you can for the services students and I think that's why the board felt like, 'Let's get this done.'"
The AEA said its members must ratify the proposed two-year contract during a vote next Thursday. The proposal must then be approved by the full school board during its Nov. 17 meeting.