BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais teachers spent the past two days on the picket line as the district’s five schools remain closed to students, marking the first time in over 20 years the district’s teachers have gone on strike.

The Bourbonnais Education Association declared a strike Thursday after the latest bargaining meeting failed to result in a contract agreement one year into negotiations.

The most recent Bourbonnais teacher strike occurred in October 1999, when a contract impasse resulted in a five-day strike by teachers.

Locally, a strike also occurred in January 2010, when Kankakee teachers union members walked out for four days until they overwhelmingly approved a contract.

Bourbonnais elementary students are unable to attend school during the strike and will have to make up missed days during the summer. About 2,400 attend District 53 schools.

Meanwhile, district parents and other community members have continued voicing support for teachers in their efforts to negotiate a contract.

Parents have spoken up in support of teachers at a recent school board meeting, a teachers union rally and via social media posts and comments. Teachers have been picketing since Tuesday of this week and were met with continuous honking and waving from passing drivers.

Among those in support of the teachers is parent Amanda Hammond.

During the Feb. 23 Bourbonnais School Board meeting, she called in to make public comment and asked board members to negotiate “in good faith.”

“I have met with over 30 teachers who have directly had an impact on not only my child’s education, but also their self-worth,” she said. “I would put these teachers against any other teachers in the county, and they would still come out on top. With that being said, our teachers need to be paid comparable to other elementary districts within the area.”

The majority of Facebook comments on a Daily Journal story reporting on the start of the strike Thursday were in support of the teachers union. Still, some voiced support for the school board.

Facebook user Connie Dup wrote, “I support the teachers 100% and we never had a bad teacher the entire time my kids were growing up, BUT 9.5% over 3 years [the board’s offer presented Wednesday] is a lot of money. Over the past 12 years I have gotten 11% total.”

Similarly, Facebook user Adam Phillips wrote, “The contract the board has offered is a pretty standard contract in every other union job in the area. The board offered a 9.5% pay increase over a three year contract. 3.5% the first year, 3% the second and third years. That’s a fair offer.”

The BEA’s offer from Wednesday proposed a two-year contract with 4 percent raises each year.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, the Bourbonnais School Board said it has attempted to meet every demand of the BEA “with the sole exception of agreeing to unsustainable pay increases.”

“The Board is responsible for ensuring the financial stability of the District long beyond a single contract with the BEA,” the statement reads. “We know that your children, our students, have already lost so much in the last two years. The thought of our students losing any more instructional time is extremely upsetting. We are anxious to get back to the bargaining table and resolve this as soon as the BEA is willing to meet.”

The next date for negotiations had not been announced as of press time. The mediator that has helped facilitate negotiations is expected to reach out to both parties to schedule another meeting in the coming days.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman released a statement in early February informing parents they would have to make alternative arrangements for their children in the event of a strike.

As long as the strike continues, there will be no classes, practices, competitions, club meetings, school-sponsored events or community events at any district school.

Ehrman could not be reached for comment for this story.

The Bourbonnais Township Park District put a message out to parents via Facebook on Thursday letting them know the park district would be offering School Break Days for families in need of childcare.

The program is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Recreation Station; the fee is $33 per day, and pre-registration is required. Register at btpd.org.

BTPD executive director Hollice Clark said this program is typically offered on holidays when school is not in session and parents are working, but the park district reactivated it in light of the strike.

Leading up to the potential strike date, families that use the BTPD’s Before/After School program had been asking about childcare options during the day.

“We did get some inquiries and had a contingency plan if this [strike] occurred,” he said.

About 10 parents called inquiring about childcare on Thursday when the strike began, which was more than usual, and five to 10 were registered to participate Friday. More are expected next week if the strike continues.

“People are finding us, which is a good thing,” he said.

Clark said the childcare programs are part of what the BTPD does to try to enhance quality of life in the community, as parents should not have to worry about their children while they are at work.

“People are just going back to work from the pandemic, and they have to pivot again,” he said.

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.