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Pensions, make-up days key issues in Evergreen Park teachers strike

Teachers in south suburban Evergreen Park have been on strike for a week now, putting roughly 1,800 students out of school.

The school board and the teachers union appear to be getting closer to a deal, but philosophical differences over where the district should spend its money could prevent a speedy settlement.

According to proposals posted on the school district’s website, the two sides are close on compensation and health care, but remain stuck on retirement benefits and whether or not teachers will make up missed school days.

Since the strike started, the board’s offers have included a provision that would not allow teachers to make up the strike days and therefore not get paid.

“That is not right,” said Mariellen Newquist, a special education teacher and co-president of the Evergreen Park teachers union. “It’s not right for our students, first and foremost, they deserve quality educators for the entire school year.”

The board has said teachers should not be rewarded for walking off the job, but also said just because teachers won’t make up the days, doesn’t mean students won’t.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again Wednesday afternoon at 4:30, meaning the strike will go on for at least another day.

The school board also wants to change the retirement benefits for union members. For one, they want to eliminate the practice that allows teachers to count their accumulated sick day payout in their base salary for their pension.

The board also wants to be able renegotiate the retirement package if state lawmakers pass new pension reform laws.

Union leaders have agreed to that, according to their most recent proposal. But Newquist said the district is still in good enough financial shape to absorb any additional pension costs. Since the strike started, union officials have argued that the district is asking for unnecessary concessions at a time when it is stockpiling cash in its reserve fund.

A state union leader said Tuesday that the Evergreen Park school board and others across the Chicago area that have surpluses are trying to capitalize on the weak economy.  

“We believe we’re seeing places that are financially stable but yet are still trying to take advantage of the economic atmosphere,” said Dave Comerford of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “And trying to push this idea, ‘Just be happy you have a job and do what we tell you to do.’”

Teachers in Highland Park District 112 have said they too are fighting a board that is sitting on a big cash reserve. They are scheduled to walk out next Wednesday, October 17.

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