Waukegan Teachers Approve New Contract, Students Back to Classrooms on Monday

"The teachers are just thrilled," said Waukegan Teacher Council President Kathy Schwarz

Waukegan teachers voted "overwhelmingly" to approve a three-year deal with the school district Thursday, ending a month-long strike in the north suburban community and sending students back to the classroom on Monday.

"The teachers are just thrilled," said Waukegan Teacher Council President Kathy Schwarz.

Schwarz said the school board still needs to approve the proposal and they are expected to do so at their next board meeting. The teachers will return to work prior to that meeting, however.

"The raise that the teachers have gotten under this will make it easier for them to live on and it's been a long time coming," said Schwarz.

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"If it ratifies, [teachers] will be back in the classroom on Friday. The students will return on Monday and that teachers will be back on Friday to, you know, set up the classrooms and do whatever needs to be done," said Schwarz.

About 17,000 students have been out of class since Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 teachers walked out on Oct. 2.

The tentative deal was reached after a marathon 14-hour day of talks that included Gery Chico, the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. Chico was asked by Gov. Pat Quinn to take part in the Wednesday discussions in hopes of ending the standoff that reached an emotional high during a Tuesday evening school board meeting when board member Victoria Torres told attendees to "sit down and shut up."

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Union representatives told NBC Chicago that Chico's participation and the fiery school board meeting helped both sides come together on the deal.

"The agreement addresses working conditions, duration of contract, salary and health care. We believe it's an agreement that's fair for both parties," said Mary Lamping, the district's deputy superintendent.

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Torres on Wednesday apologized for her behavior during Tuesday's school board meeting, explaining that she lost her temper when she "felt attacked."

"As a leader, I realize I set a poor example for the students of Waukegan Public Schools, and for the community, and I am truly sorry for how I acted," Torres said.

Michelle Standridge, a representative for Illinois Federation of Teachers Lake County Local 504, said some hope the school board would call for Torres' "immediate resignation."

Waukegan Unit District 60 Board Member Victoria Torres on Tuesday night told a packed crowd to “Sit down, shut up! Shut up!” Natalie Martinez reports.
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