District 112 Board Asks Union to Withdraw Strike Threat
Highland Park's elementary and middle school board and teachers' union "remain significantly apart" in contract negotiations. Another meeting has been set for Oct. 15, the day before the teachers' strike is set to begin.
Update 10/11/12: Though the District 112 school board and teachers' union made some movement during Wednesday evening's most recent bargaining session, the two sides "remain significantly apart," according to an email sent at about 1 a.m. Thursda morning by school board president Bruce Hyman.
The teachers' union proposed meeting again on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, the school board has requested the union withdraw its strike threat. The district's contingency plans remain in effect.
Earlier: Highland Park's elementary and middle school district has been collaborating with the city's other governing bodies to figure out programming for the district's 4,500 students should the teachers' union begin its planned Oct. 16 strike.
Registration began this week for free programming that will be offered by the district and the Park District of Highland Park if the teachers strike and school is not in session. The park district will have five camps that will take place at Heller Nature Reserve, West Ridge Center, Deer Creek Courts and the Recreation Center. They will be available to about 150 children. An additional number of children will be accommodated by the Centennial Ice Arena for open skate and open gymnastics. The Recreation Center will offer open swim and open gym.
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"As soon as we got word there might be a strike, we knew there needed to be a contingency plan," Park District Executive Director Liza McElroy said. "We're ready to go."
The park district camps will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will be similar to those offered during the summer, according to Park District Communications Coordinator Emily Biang. They will include singing, cooking and indoor sports. Participating children just need to bring their own lunch.
McElroy hopes that parents who work full-time will take advantage of these available services, since space will be limited.
"We really want to make sure that kids who have parents who both work… will get those kids in a safe environment," McElroy said.
The park district's programming will cost the park district $2,000 a day, assuming "we max everything," according to McElroy, who said the main cost is the staff.
"I think we will be able to provide this service for the duration of the strike," she said. "We will evaluate on a day by day basis."
Other organizations offer more programming
Eight other local organizations will offer programming to District 112 students during the teachers' strike, including the Highland Park Public Library, the Family Network and the City of Highland Park.
Editors' Note: Click here to see all the programming that will be offered to DIstrict 112 children during the teachers' strike.
The Highland Park Nursery School will offer day care for 22 kindergarten students for $42 per day, while the Naval Station Great Lakes Youth Center will offer all-day childcare at a cost dependent on total family income. The Chicago Botanic Gardens announced on Wednesday it would offer a Nature Days program to 20 kindergarteners through fifth graders.
"There's a lot of community support," District 112 Communications Specialist Andi Rosen said.
The District will be prioritizing children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, according to District 112 Community Relations Specialist Andi Rosen.
"We don't have the staffing to accommodate more," she said.
Union, board still hopeful strike can be avoided
Though the district has begun preparing for a teachers' strike, its members remain hopeful one can still be avoided.
"They're not the ones walking away from the negotiating table," Rosen said about the District 112 School Board. "They want to do everything possible to avoid a strike."
According to North Shore Education Association president Pamela Kramer, the teachers are not looking forward to striking, but feel they have no other option.
"I'm still hoping that we'll go and work it out Wednesday night," Kramer said, referring to a bargaining meeting scheduled for Oct. 10. "[A strike] is not a pleasant thing to go through… but we're not going to roll over and play dead."
District 112 recently posted a chart comparing the board's most recent contract proposal with the teacher union's. Kramer says the teachers' proposed contract leaves the teachers worse off than teachers in neighboring districts in salary, lane changes, retirement and health care.
"We feel we are so reasonable with where we are right now that this is just a horrible situation," Kramer said.
Rosen disagrees with Kramer's characterization that Highland Park teachers have it worse than those in surrounding districts.
"Right now if you look at the chart of all the districts in Lake County, we're the third highest beginning salary," Rosen said.
The teachers feel the board's perspective on its finances is unnecessarily bleak, blaming the reluctance to spend more on teachers on a tea party mentality.
"They have the money," Kramer said.
According to Rosen, however, the board's proposal stems from a desire to end three years of painful budget cuts, ending a trend where the district spends more than it takes in.
"The way the board is looking at it is prudent and fiscally responsible," Rosen said. "This isn't politics, it's math."