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What Genevans need to know  as teachers strike looms

Students head home after class HarrisElementary School GenevMonday October 29 2012. The GenevEducatiAssociatiissued notice its intent strike school board negotiators

Students head home after class at Harrison Elementary School in Geneva on Monday, October 29, 2012. The Geneva Education Association issued a notice of its intent to strike to school board negotiators on Friday. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 30, 2012 12:20PM

GENEVA — The news that a strike may be imminent has had a weekend to sink in for Geneva parents. And the chatter as they picked up their students Monday afternoon from Harrison Street Elementary School was split — some parents have backed the educators, with blue signs posted in yards that read “I support Geneva teachers.”

Other parents, not so much.

“Education is important. There are so many people looking for work out there, I would think they (the teachers) could be replaced. It should be easy to do,” said Angela McMorris, whose daughter attends Harrison Street Elementary. “Children should come first, before the dollar. But let me say, I hope there isn’t a strike.”

Teachers said they hope so, too.

“We are extremely frustrated with the lack of a settlement,” said Carol Young, president of the Geneva Education Association. “We made significant progress toward the board’s demands last week and spent many long hours together, but we were not able to work out a settlement. However, we remain hopeful that we will avoid a strike. It is something that will only hurt our community.”

The School Board, teachers union and a mediator will not sit down again until Nov. 6 — three days before teachers could walk out. Young called the delay “wasteful.”

“We are also frustrated that the board will not meet with us again until next week,” said Young. “We have a tentative meeting scheduled for Nov. 6 but it seems wasteful to us to not meet this week if the board is truly interested in settling this contract.”

Sarah Miller, attorney for the School District, said that the Nov. 6 date was simply a matter of scheduling.

Meanwhile, the district and parents are preparing for the worst. Here’s what parents and residents need to know:

What’s the disagreement?

The major sticking point comparing proposals from teachers and the board surround pay. The board wants to institute a “hard freeze” of salaries, tenure increases and increases for degrees and other professional development for the first year of the three-year contract. Teachers have asked for a 1 percent raise for years one and two, but have offered to take salary freeze for half of the third year, and only professional development increases for the second half of year three.

Will students
still be in school?

That has yet to be decided, according to Miller. The district is working on a contingency plan that will likely be presented to the School Board for approval in a special meeting. That contingency plan would also include whether or not students will have to make up any lost days in the summer.

What about
clubs and sports?

Any affect on athletics, Miller said, would be minimized. IHSA rules prohibit students from participating in games when their teachers are on strike, but make exceptions for teams that are already in post-season competitions. Cross country and volleyball, which have both begun post-season competitions, will be allowed to continue, but Miller said winter sports could be affected

How much do
teachers make?

Teachers in the Geneva School District earn, on average, $72,395 yearly. Salaries range from roughly $39,000 for first-year teachers with only a bachelors degree to $99,000 for teachers with 22 years’ experience and a doctorate. Geneva’s teachers tend to be more experienced — an average of 14.3 years — than in other districts, but their salaries are about on par with their neighbors. In St. Charles, teachers earn $71,711, on average, and have an average 12.4 years’ experience. In Batavia, teachers earn $76,599 and have 13.5 years’ experience. In Kaneland, teachers earn $54,410, but have just 9.8 years’ experience, on average.

Will teachers
get paid on strike?

The teachers union does not offer strike pay, but is working to secure a loan to help teachers financially in the event of a strike, according to Young.

Are teachers striking more than usual?

The Chicago teachers strike made national headlines, bringing more attention to the issue, but if it seems as though contract negotiations are going sour more frequently across the state, that’s only because of the numbers of contracts out for negotiations, according to Charlie McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association.

“We’re in an economy that is somewhat difficult, and many districts and teachers opt for shorter contracts, so they’re negotiating more often,” he said. “But, while it may seem like a lot, if you look at the big picture, strikes remain incredibly rare.”

The Illinois Education Association represents about 900 local teachers unions statewide. McBarron said that, so far, only two or three have had work stoppages this year, and most lasted just one day.

When was the last
time teachers walked out locally?

In the Fox Valley, teachers strikes are also rare. Though negotiations tend to come down to the wire often, the last time teachers walked out was in 1991 in Yorkville.

Staff writer Steve Lord
contributed to this story.

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