The Highland, Illinois teachers’ union reached a settlement with the district’s board of education late Thursday afternoon, ending a week-long teacher strike. Students will be back in class Friday after missing six days of school.
In a press release, Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton said the new teacher contract is good for three years and includes a provision to make up the missed school days. With school back in session Friday, school-sanctioned activities are now back on the weekend schedule, including the high school football game.
Update from Thursday, September 17, 2014:
Students were out of school for a fifth day in the Highland, Illinois school district as teachers continued to strike Wednesday. Another contract negotiation session is scheduled for Thursday morning.
Representatives of the teachers’ union and school board met again Tuesday night in an effort to reach agreement on a new teachers contract. Salary continues to be the main sticking point.
In contrast to previous negotiation sessions, the two sides agreed to return to a three-year contract with the possibility of future pay increases.
The union wants to continue annual increases in pay, based on a pay scale that takes into account years of experience and professional development. But the board is offering teachers two steps on the pay scale over the course of the next three years.
Originally, the union wanted a six percent increase in base salary and benefits, while the board wanted to keep salary the same and freeze movement along the pay scale.
Local union president ShiAnne Shively said now, the union wants their new contract to mirror their old one.
“Status quo. Retirement incentive, insurance benefits and just step credit for years of experience. No additional money added to the salary whatsoever,” Shively said.
According to district records, starting pay for Highland teachers was $35,318 last year. The highest paid teacher made $87,889, likely due to the incentive given to teachers who are nearing retirement.
Representatives on both sides of the table said the meeting Tuesday was productive and they are hopeful that they will reach an agreement Thursday.
Professional negotiator Stephanie Jones was brought into the negotiation session Tuesday by the board. She said that significant progress was made.
“I do feel like everybody really wants to get the kids back in the classroom, and maybe it’s okay to be optimistic sometimes,” Jones said.
According to Jones, the negotiation session is purposely scheduled early in the day so that the teachers’ union will have time to meet after the session. If the union members vote to accept an agreement reached during the negotiation session, school could resume on Friday.
Original story published Thursday, September 11:
For the first time in the history of Highland Community Unit School District #5, the teachers are on strike. Instead of teaching inside their classrooms, they spent Thursday walking picket lines outside every school in the Metro East district. The district serves 3,000 students.
Local union president ShiAnne Shively said it was an emotional day for the teachers.
“This is something that none of us ever wanted,” Shively said. “But our teachers came in today with positive attitudes that we’re going to do what we need to do stand up for a fair contract and get something that will allow us to provide the quality of education that this community is used to.”
On Tuesday, the teachers rejected the latest contract offer from the school board by a vote of 139 to 16. That contract gave teachers an across-the-board $500 stipend. The teachers haven’t received a raise in four years.
According to Superintendent Mike Sutton, the offer also retained the retirement incentive requested by the union, as well as language about ethics, conduct and support for early intervention for students with special learning and behavior needs.
Shively said Thursday that the union has a new contract proposal to take to the school board, and have asked the school board for a meeting.
“So hopefully within the next few days will be able to meet with the board, and I would love to be able to say that we have a resolution so we can get back to work as soon as possible. We want to be in our classrooms with our kids,” she said.
But until they reach an agreement, the strike goes on. With school canceled, all extra-curricular activities are on hold, meaning Saturday’s ACT test is off the calendar and the high school football team has to forfeit Friday’s game.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille