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Strike set for Monday, but hope remains

Students leave for the day Friday at Geneva High School.
Students leave for the day Friday at Geneva High School.

GENEVA – Geneva School District 304 officials said Friday they were surprised by the teachers union’s announcement to strike Monday.

It marks the fifth time officials said the Geneva Education Association took them by surprise during contract talks: when the union called for a federal mediator June 27; when teachers declared impasse Oct. 12; when teachers voted to authorize a strike Oct. 17; when they filed an intent to strike notice Oct. 26; and now that they announced a walkout.

“With the first year of the contract effectively settled, and the federal mediator unable to meet on Monday due to the national holiday, the board agreed to meet on Tuesday, Nov. 13  – having no indication that a strike would be called for Monday,” according to a statement released Friday by district officials.

“With the current school year resolved, the board of education does not understand the GEA’s urgency to strike, as the union is effectively walking out over issues that would not take effect until the 2013-2014 school year.”

In a statement, board President Mark Grosso said he reached out to union President Carole Young to schedule a negotiating session Sunday instead of waiting until Tuesday. The union reportedly has agreed, and the sides will meet.

The two sides are scheduled for another mediation session Tuesday because the federal mediator is unavailable Monday because it is Veterans Day.

After 18 hours of contract talks with a federal mediator Tuesday and Thursday, teachers union officials said there was progress, but they have no choice but to walk out.

“Regrettably, the board has rejected our offers of compromise,” according to a statement released by Young. “Coupled with its unwillingness to meet further over the weekend, we believe the only course of action available to us at this time is to go out on strike on Monday, Nov. 12.”

According to Young’s statement, the teachers agreed to a salary freeze the first year of a three-year contract – a longtime roadblock for the union, as its members have harangued the school board over it since August.

School officials contradicted the union’s characterization that the board of education “rejected [the GEA’s] offers of compromise.”

“The board feels it has negotiated in good faith and has made substantial movement in its offers,” according to the statement.

The latest offer given to the union is posted on the district website,

Kathleen Chroust, a music teacher for 28 years – 17 years in Geneva – said the teachers are sad that contract talks have risen to this level of division in the community.

“We are all a little upset. No teacher wants to strike – not one teacher wants to strike,” Chroust said. “People do want to do their job; they do want to be here; no one wants to strike. This is small little tragedy for the community. We still think of the kids first.”

Chroust said she has never seen anything like this in Geneva.

“We are all hoping for a settlement,” Chroust said. “The bottom line is that teachers want to be teaching. We want to be here. The children do come first.”

But parent Jon Snurka, with an eighth-grader and a sophomore in the district, said teachers are asking for too much.

“I feel that teachers are out of line,” Snurka said. “I think they are pushing too hard. I think that the board was trying to work in good faith, and with today’s economy, the teachers are pushing too far and they need to have a little bit more accommodation.”

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