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No strike, but parents still uneasy

Students arrive GenevMiddle School South Monday after strike was averted.  |  Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

Students arrive at Geneva Middle School South on Monday after a strike was averted. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:14AM

In the 26 years I had kids enrolled in public schools, there was never a need to weather a potential teachers strike. So I have no idea what it’s like for parents forced to deal so much uncertainty.

I can guess, however, it comes with some emotion.

“It’s annoying,” declared parent Cathy Klis, who had to chase down the bus Monday morning after an 11th-hour announcement went out from the Geneva School District declaring the strike had been called off. A “tentative agreement” had been reached, according to the 5:30 a.m. email and phone call, which demanded a little scrambling on the parts of parents like Klis, a working mom of a third-grader and six-grader.

It’s also been awkward at times. With so much emotion on both sides, “you don’t want to bring it up when you’re with a group of people because you have no idea what their feelings are,” she said. “So I just avoided the topic, like politics.”

But as PTO co-president for Harrison Elementary School, Klis has felt the angst as much as anyone. Geneva parents have always enjoyed a great relationship with teachers, she noted. There’s a tremendous amount of classroom participation. And the PTO does so much for teachers, including a “wish list” fundraiser and upcoming teacher appreciation dinners.

The potential strike, parents have told me, has definitely created hard feelings — to the point some want to cancel these dinners.

The Harrison PTO sent out letters to members encouraging neutrality, Klis said, but as negotiations dragged on and it became apparent the sticking points were all about money, she could sense support for teachers waning.

“There were pockets of sympathy, but most of the parents I talked to were not happy,” she added. “Teaching out here is not like teaching in the Chicago Public Schools,” where wages and parental involvement are much lower.

Although details of the tentative agreement had not been revealed, issues still on the table before Sunday’s session included base pay, the number of step and lane advancements, and extra pay raises for retiring teachers. The teachers union on Saturday filed an unfair-labor-practices charge against the district, accusing it of intimidation after sending letters to teachers advising them that they must pay their full health and dental insurance premiums during the strike.

While parents did not want to come across as anti-teacher, their frustrations seemed to be directed at the union.

“We have good teachers here,” said parent Nancy Cantu. “But with the economy the way it is and so many people struggling, it is hard to have a lot of sympathy for their demands, especially when you know there are so many wonderful and passionate teachers out there just trying to find jobs.”

Klis says she’s unsure how long the current attitude will last.

“It will be interesting going forward see if (the PTO) will be able to raise the kind of funds we have in the past,” she noted. “There are definitely negative feelings.”

Doug Ruth, dropping his son off at the middle school Monday morning, expressed caution about the tentative agreement. “I’m hoping for the best,” he said, “but I’m still going to be watching the email alerts.”

No doubt more than a few students were dealing with emotion, too, when they awoke Monday to learn it was business as usual. Some parents said their kids enjoyed the drama — and the thought of missing unexpected class days. Other appeared as fed up as their parents.

A student dropped off by his mom who was running late Monday morning didn’t even want to discuss the news story.

“I just want to go to school,” he said.

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