KANKAKEE — Members of the Kankakee teachers union on Thursday rejected a proposed contract. They also authorized a strike, though a walkout is not inevitable.
This is the third time the union membership turned down an offer.
In a brief interview, Beth Anderson, president of the Kankakee Federation of Teachers, said it wouldn’t be appropriate to release the exact vote tally because the union is still in mediation. But in a news release, the district reported the vote at 174-107 against the contract.
In the release, Superintendent Genevra Walters said another official was told by the union that teachers’ concerns are not with money but their relationship with administrators. The reference to administrators was not building principals, but officials in the central office, Walters said.
Walters called the union members “really compassionate, hardworking teachers.”
“This is the reason we offered substantial raises. If we could financially afford to pay more, we would,” Walters said.
Anderson declined to say when a strike might happen, saying the union must follow a number of steps. That process includes the posting of final offers on the state educational labor board’s website, which can only occur when an impasse is declared.
“We haven’t reached an impasse yet,” she said.
Just because a union’s membership authorizes a strike does not mean it will happen. It’s rare for school labor disputes to reach an official impasse that results in posting of final offers. So far this school year, it has happened in just five school districts — out of more than 800 statewide.
The latest proposal would have given teachers at least 2 percent more in salary for the current school year, with some teachers getting more depending on experience. The following years, teachers would have received raises of 2 percent, 2.5 percent and 3 percent.
The last Kankakee teachers strike was in January 2010, when union members walked out for four days until they overwhelmingly approved a contract.
The average teacher salary in the district is $54,579, lower than the statewide average of $65,721, according to the Illinois School Board of Education’s website. The district has 324 teachers, the site says.
Walters released a number of financial documents to the Daily Journal after the vote Thursday night.
In 2018, the state designated the Kankakee district as being in “early financial warning” status, which is the second-lowest rating. The district’s financial condition ranks it in the bottom 8 percent of districts statewide.
The district gets a little more than a quarter of its money from local property taxes. More than half comes from the state, with the rest from the federal government. Statewide, schools receive more than two-thirds on average from local taxes.
Kankakee gets more state and federal money because of its relatively small property tax base and high proportion of low-income students.
According to the district, this financial situation makes local schools “extremely reliant on undependable” state money. This makes it necessary to be conservative on long-term financial decisions, it said.