BESD third rally

Bourbonnais Elementary School District teachers and supporters march along North Convent Street before Tuesday’s bargaining meeting.

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 teachers are going on strike today after the latest bargaining meeting, lasting over four hours, failed to result in a contract agreement one year into negotiations.

The Bourbonnais Education Association, representing nearly 170 members, announced Wednesday night that it plans to begin picket lines at 8 a.m. today at Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center.

Dozens of teachers and supporters could be seen picketing along North Convent Street for the second day in a row Wednesday ahead of the 5:30 p.m. bargaining meeting. It was the union’s fourth outdoor demonstration.

John Hall, head of the school board’s negotiating team, said Wednesday night that the district was working on sending out communications to let parents know not to send their children to school in the morning. The district serves about 2,400 students.

“Unfortunately, what none of us wanted is here,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to get back to the table soon.”

Hall said the mediator that has been helping to facilitate negotiations would be reaching out to both parties regarding scheduling further bargaining meetings, which would typically resume a day or two after a strike is declared. Nothing is scheduled yet, but a meeting this weekend could be a possibility, Hall said.

BEA President Lauren Lundmark said in an emailed statement that union members did everything they could to prevent the strike.

“We would much rather be in our classrooms with our students, but instead we are fighting for them out on the picket line,” she said.

After union membership voted to authorize a potential strike earlier this year, the BEA initiated the public posting process with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which allowed the public to view recent contract offers.

Once the process was completed, the BEA could have legally gone on strike as early as Feb. 19. Union leadership later informed the board that teachers would strike by March 4 if negotiations continued to be unsuccessful.

Both parties presented written offers Tuesday and scheduled another meeting for Wednesday in effort to avert a strike before Thursday.

What’s on the table?

Hall said the board proposed a three-year contract offer Wednesday which would include a 3.5 percent increase the first year and 3 percent increases the second and third years, for a total of 9.5 percent over three years.

The BEA on Wednesday proposed a two-year contract offer which would include 4 percent increases both years, for a total of 8 percent over two years, he said.

Both parties had also proposed percentage-based offers on Tuesday but, obviously, those did not result in an agreement.

The union has been pushing for percentage-based increases in addition to maintaining the district’s current retirement and insurance benefits. The union initially pushed for a traditional step-and-lane salary structure as well, but it has since agreed to concede on that point.

Hall said the board does not want to accept a two-year deal, which would bring the parties back to the bargaining table in roughly a year’s time. He also noted that fiscal responsibility is important.

“We are getting zero new dollars from the state this year or next,” he said. “Offering 9.5 percent over three years is already more than we’re going to be able to afford without spending reserves.”

Lundmark also said in an emailed statement that, while the board’s offer from Tuesday included percentage-based increases, the annual raises still would have been low when factoring inflation and rising insurance premiums.

“The district has at least $10 million in reserves,” she said. “We know they have the funding to maintain our insurance and retirement benefits while also providing competitive percentage raises to our staff across the board.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.