Bourbonnais Elementary teachers picket

Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 teachers, staff and supporters picket along Route 45 on Jan. 26 to raise awareness about their struggle to reach a contract agreement with the school district. About 150 marchers walked in the snow from near Alan Shepard and Shabbona Elementary Schools down to John Casey Road, where the district office is located.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify that figures presented by the Bourbonnais School Board were calculated based on an average salary of $50,000 in 2019-20, so the percentages in its offer do not reflect the precise increase all teachers would receive.

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais teachers have marked March 4 as the date they will officially go on strike if a contract agreement is not reached by then.

The Bourbonnais Education Association and Bourbonnais School Board met for a negotiating session Thursday and scheduled two more meetings for Feb. 17 and 25.

After initiating the public posting process with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, teachers could legally go on strike as soon as Friday, Feb. 19.

John Hall, head of the school board’s negotiating team, said the union informed the board on Thursday they would wait until March 4 to initiate a strike if no resolution is reached.

He said the board presented the union with a new proposal Thursday, and the parties spent about three hours bargaining. He expects the union will present another proposal Feb. 17.

“It still goes to say that our top priority as a board and administration is to not strike,” Hall said. “We want to get this done.”

BEA President Lauren Lundmark couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman has said schools would not be able to remain open in the event of a strike, and any school days missed due to a teachers strike would be made up during the summer.

Contract offers posted to the labor board’s website indicate that the BEA and Bourbonnais School Board are at odds over proposed salary increases over the next three years, among other points.

The BEA has asked for proposed raises of 5.3 percent in 2020-21, 2.7 percent in 2021-22 and 4 percent in 2022-23, for a total increase of 12 percent over a three-year contract.

The Bourbonnais School Board’s proposal offers compounding salary increases, calculated based on an average salary of $50,000 per year. The increases proposed are 2.6 percent ($1,300) the first year, 2.1 percent ($1,100) the second year and 2.1 percent ($1,100) the third year, for a total increase of about 7 percent over the three years, plus bonuses.

The board's figures were calculated based on an average salary of $50,000 in 2019-20, so the percentages in its offer do not reflect the precise increase all teachers would receive.

Though the board has offered some of what teachers are asking for, the parties are still in disagreement about specifics.

For instance, the board’s recent offers include common plan time for all teachers and maintaining current retirement benefits; however, the board’s offer is being proposed as a package deal, so the union must accept the entire offer to agree to individual benefits.

Teachers are also asking for a return to step-and-lane salary structure. While the board’s recent offers include this, union representatives say they are not in agreement about the specific type of step-and-lane structure offered.

Teachers are asking for a “traditional” step-and-lane structure, which would include percentage-based increases, rather than fixed dollar increases, according to the union.

The board has also offered to maintain current insurance benefits for current teachers, but the union wants benefits extended for new teachers as well.

Also on Thursday, community members voiced their support for Bourbonnais teachers on Facebook for a “virtual picket.”

The event, which was held online due to weather, followed up the previous picket from Jan. 26 in which about 150 teachers and supporters marched along Route 45.

This time, photos of picket signs and messages of support were shared online, tagged #BEAforstudents.

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 studied journalism at Eastern Illinois University.