A strike has been averted at Illinois’ largest high school district after an agreement was reached Monday afternoon between the teachers union and board of education.
"We are pleased to announce that the Board of Education and the Teachers’ Union have reached a resolution to the contract negotiation impasse," a statement read. "Because of this, a teachers strike has been averted and school will continue as normally scheduled on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, including the regular school day and all extracurricular practices, clubs, and school-sponsored events. Final exams, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, December 19, will be held as normal. Regular exam schedules are available on school websites."
Earlier in the day, the district urged parents and students to prepare for a potential strike this week as negotiations with teachers continue just before the holidays.
"Because we do not yet have the complete terms of a resolution, we must prepare for the prospect that a strike could occur," District 211 Supt. Daniel Cates said in a letter to parents.
School continued as usual Monday, but students were told that if an agreement wasn't reached before the school day ends, they should "gather any materials they might need for all final exams" and take them home.
If a strike had occured and lasted beyond Tuesday, final exams would have been altered, the school said.
"We recognize and acknowledge the emotional disruption that the uncertainty of a strike creates for our students and families, staff members, and many partners in our District 211 communities," Cates wrote.
Andrew Cantrell, field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said members of the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211 hoped to avoid a strike.
“We are ready to negotiate,” Cantrell said. “We are. Like I said, we’ve been in talks with the board and we’re going to continue talking with them and try to get this settled because there’s no reason for us to be here.”
Though negotiations have been ongoing for a year, current discussions had left the district and the union about $2 million apart, according to Cantrell.
“We are dealing with a district that is very flush in reserves and budget surpluses and can easily afford this proposal,” he said.
But the district argued the union’s demands are “not financially sound.”
“After more than a year of negotiating in good faith with the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 211, including bringing in a federal mediator, our Board offered the Union a proposed agreement that honors the quality work of our staff members and protects the sustainability of the District’s student programming,” the Township High School District 211 Board of Education wrote in a letter to students and parents. “The union rejected our offer and has communicated its intent to strike, timing it to occur during semester exams, which will be a hardship to students. We have never had a teachers’ strike in our district, ever.”
Union members said talks have come “down to a handful of issues” that aren’t entirely based on salary, like adding counselors to help students.
Last week, the district said its offer included salary increases “well above a 20 percent increase over the span of the four-year contract,” additional compensation via extra duties like coaching or teaching summer school, no increase for health insurance costs for the year, and lifelong retirement benefits that “commonly exceed $100,000 per year and increase by 3 percent each year once the individual reaches 61 years of age.”
“The Board’s proposal is a very strong package, but the Union demands even higher amounts,” the board’s statement read.
A Board of Education meeting took place Thursday night at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, and a massive crowd gathered to voice their concerns about a potential strike.
"I'm appalled to look you all in eye right now," John Braglia, union president, said during the meeting. "Fortunately, our skin is thick and your devaluation of our work shall not prevent us from doing what we love."
Township High School District 211 is in Chicago's northwest suburbs. It serves nearly 12,000 students in five high schools, including Conant High School, Fremd High School, Hoffman Estates High School, Palatine High School and Schaumburg High School. It also has 175 special needs students at two alternative high schools.