Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 10, 2014

Teachers could legally strike Thursday

Teutopolis teachers still eager for agreement

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

TEUTOPOLIS — While Teutopolis teachers filed an intent to strike notice with the Illinois State Board of Education more than a week ago, Unit 50 teachers were in their classrooms Monday. Moreover, a representative from the Teutopolis Education Association teachers union told the Unit 50 Board of Education Monday that the teachers were looking forward to opening a dialogue with the board as early as that evening.

In a prepared statement read during Monday's board meeting, high school teacher and coach Justin Fleener noted the teachers still hoped to reach an agreement before a strike is called.

"Although we have filed an intent to strike letter, we are still hopeful that a fair agreement can be reached between the TEA and the school board," Fleener said. "We seek an agreement that is just and fair for the whole community, one that will allow the district to employ the kinds of high-quality professionals that have historically made the district second to none in test scores, academic achievement and overall quality."

Fleener called for the sides to at least come together and talk.

"It's time for all parties to come to the negotiation table with fairness and dedication," he said. "We hope through this communication we can resolve our differences so we can continue this school year in the quality way our community has come to expect."

Board President Marty Siemer said he hopes that the board and teachers can resume negotiations.

"We know we have great teachers," Siemer said. "We will continue the discussion."

The board and teachers were expected to meet after the board concluded its open session Monday.

TEA Co-President Amy Oseland said Monday that the teachers filed their intent to strike notice Jan. 30. That means the teachers cannot legally strike until Thursday.

Teachers have said one of their major concerns is the two-tier salary structure that the board has proposed. Teachers maintain that the new salary structure would limit the district's ability to recruit and retain quality teachers.

Some community members at the board meeting weighed in with their opinions Monday.

Ed Wiessing noted that his employer, Stevens Industries, has employed many former Unit 50 students during its many decades of operation — and that many of those people make good livings.

"To man the company with good people, we have to consider that wages are part of what keeps people going," Wiessing said. "If it were me, I'd be putting everything I could into settling this.

"I am really concerned you aren't doing everything you can to make sure teachers receive a fair shake."

Teacher's aide Kathy Ruholl also briefly addressed the board.

"We're here to show support for the teachers," Ruholl said.

Rich Probst of the Sportsbackers booster organization said both sides need to do what they can to avoid a strike.

"I know a strike is not in the best interests of our community," Probst said.

Probst suggested that the sides come up with a multiyear deal.

"I don't think a one-year solution is a solution," he said.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.