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Decision day in D-304: Teacher walkout looms

Published: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 10:40 a.m. CST
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Geneva residents and teachers listen to public comments Tuesday during a special meeting of the Geneva School District 304 school board.

GENEVA – Although the two sides in the Geneva School District 304 teacher contract talks say they are committed to reaching a settlement, another eight hours of negotiations have resulted in another session scheduled for Thursday.

The school board and the Geneva Education Association are close on other language, according to school officials, but the division comes down to salary and compensation. The school board is holding firm to a hard freeze – with a few exceptions – the first year and the teachers union is not accepting it.

The union filed an intent to strike notice, with the earliest date for a walkout being today.

However, resident Bob McQuillan, a co-founder of the taxpayer watchdog group TaxFACTS, said – barring news of a settlement – teachers likely will not strike the first day they are able, but rather Monday.

“There is no way they would strike [on Friday] because Geneva middle schools have a big Veterans Day program on Friday,” McQuillan said. “They’re not going to have the parents and veterans come and then walk out. It would alienate the GEA with the community.”

Besides, McQuillan said, Friday is a half day, with students going home at noon and teachers staying for in-service time.

“If they’re going to go out, Monday is the better day,” McQuillan said.

Teachers union President Carol Young could not be reached for comment, but has said in earlier statements that intent to strike does not mean teachers have to walk out, only that they can.

School officials said if teachers strike today, the Veterans Day observance will be canceled. Officials also have announced their own schedule if a strike is called.

While students would not be required to attend school during a strike, buses would run and other district personnel would supervise activities for students at each elementary school, Geneva Middle School South and Geneva High School.

Parents also are asked to call the district at 630-463-3088 to let them know if their children will be attending school.

School officials this week also instituted a new policy governing teachers’ First Amendment rights to protest with the district’s responsibility to students and staff.

If teachers picket on school property, they could face criminal charges, and if they obstruct anyone from entering a school building, they could be disciplined, according to the newly enacted policy.

• • •

Geneva resident Wynn Church, 76, a retired airline pilot, was in the pilots union when he flew planes for American Airlines. Church spoke to school officials this week, saying he has experience walking a picket line, although not on strike.

“It was during a time when Braniff Airlines and American Airlines were competing,” Church said. “As I recall, our company president … agreed to fly Braniff planes and park at O’Hare and bring revenue back to Dallas. We thought, as a pilot group, this was not the thing to do.”

He said the pilots had a contractual agreement that they were to do all the flying for American.

“To have our resources, our system, used by Braniff violated that contract. So, we showed up in force at O’Hare and sent Braniff on its way,” Church said.

Church also was flying planes in 1981 when President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers who were part of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, also known as PATCO.

“My take on that was, Reagan tried to reach an agreement, PATCO took steps to strike – just like it is now with the teachers,” Church said. “It was a necessary thing at the time. He used former military air traffic controllers who stood up to the bluff.”

Church said he supports teachers because he is married to one. But as a retired person on a fixed income, he also has an eye on increasing property taxes in the face of decreasing property values.

“The compensation is not superior, but it’s good,” Wynn said of Geneva teachers. “It’s compensatory; it’s equivalent for the work that is done. Teachers work hard, and good teachers are invaluable. Given today’s economy and comparable jobs, teachers have job security. And the clincher is the benefit package. I would have to say, it is superior for anything comparable in the private sector … and I’ve worked both sides of the street.”

• • •

According to the latest offer released by school officials on Oct. 26, the school board still is offering a hard freeze with exceptions. The exceptions are for 36 teachers who qualify for lane advancement based on completed coursework. They would move up a lane on the salary schedule. And the exceptions also are for 57 teachers who submitted a retirement notice over the past three years, but prior to Aug. 15.

In 2013-14, teachers would get a 1.65 percent salary increase. This would increase beginning teachers pay to $40,305 from $39,651, and teachers who qualify for a lane advancement would be able to move one lane.

In 2014-15, the raise would be 2.75 percent, boosting the beginning salary to $41,413.

The GEA proposes a 1 percent pay increase in the first two years with step and lane increases.

In the third year, 2014-15, teachers would accept a pay freeze for half the year, but get step increases of 2.65 percent and lane increases the second half, according to the union’s offer.

The complete offerings are available online at www.geneva304.org/negotiations.asp and www.gea4students.org.

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