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Lake Forest High School sees first teachers strike

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For the first time in the district’s history, teachers in Lake Forest High School District 115 went on strike today after failing to reach an agreement over salaries during negotiations that ended just before midnight.

The walkout affects about 1,700 students and about 150 teachers.

Teachers set up a picket line in front of Lake Forest High School this morning, carrying yellow signs that read, "Lake Forest Teachers for a Fair Contract."

Some parents appeared displeased by the picketers, but a few students turned out in support.

"You make three times more than the average citizen in Chicagoland," a woman yelled. "What is the lesson for all the students today?"

A man joined the picket line -- but carried a sign telling the teachers to get back to work.

Mollie Blahunka, 17, a senior from Lake Bluff, handed out homemade cookies to teachers and hugged them.

"You guys support me every day so I'm here to support you," said Blahunka, who is the director of the junior-senior play "Wild Dust" and was planning to lead rehearsal today despite the strike.

An important field hockey game today against New Trier has been canceled.

“We were recently informed that the IHSA will strictly enforce the rules regarding interscholastic contests,” said school board President Sharon Golan. “This ruling prohibits us from participating in competition if the teachers go on strike. We are very disappointed with this decision as we believe it is in the best interest of our students to continue scheduled activities.”

“Many of our teams will be practicing today,” she added. “Our athletic trainers will be present.”

Some previously scheduled activities, including visits from college representatives, will continue at the high school. Meanwhile, the district says the school will be open to students between 7:50 a.m. and 3:10 p.m. and lunch will be served.

The Lake Forest school board released information on its offer to teachers Tuesday night, with about 75 people packing the board room.

Michael Hernandez, an attorney negotiating for the district, presented information on salary scales and benefits on a big screen. He described the union as being unreasonable during a time when the community has been “affected by foreclosures by people who lost their jobs.”

He criticized the union’s calculations on the district’s future reserves, saying, “We see these projections and don’t know where they came from.”

The board has offered pay increases of 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2013, 3.4 percent in 2014 and 3.4 percent in 2015, according to the district. It also has asked teachers to start paying for a percentage of their insurance coverage.

The union maintains that, since teachers’ pay was frozen last year in a one-year contract, the raises should be bumped up to the level they would have been if not for the freeze. The union proposed raises equal to 5.6 percent in 2013, 6.5 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in 2015, according to district figures.

Residents who spoke at the Tuesday meeting mostly sided with the board. Some said the teachers should take into account their work environment within an affluent community that does not scrimp on classroom resources.

“This is all going to fall back on the taxpayers in this town,” said Brad Kunde of Lake Forest. “I, for one, feel I pay enough.”

But Gail Gamrath of Lake Bluff, a parent of three elementary school students, supported the teachers and questioned the district’s comparisons of salaries with other districts. She is a dean at New Trier Township High School District 203 in Winnetka.

“It saddens me to see what has transpired here,” Gamrath said, criticizing a Lake Forest proposal to hire new teachers on a different pay structure than those with experience. “We get what we pay for many times.”

Teachers and board members, aided by a federal mediator, have struggled to agree on even what dates to meet. No bargaining sessions have been scheduled.

Besides disagreement over salary raises, the teachers oppose the two-tiered salary structure proposed by the board. New teachers would make less money over time than teachers under the current structure, officials said.

“We are fearful if we, as a faculty, accept a contract that says new teachers will earn less over the course of their career, our district will no longer be able to compete,” said teachers spokesman Chuck Gress. “A teacher could work here two or three years … and then look elsewhere.”

He noted that teacher salaries were frozen last year in a one-year contract. "They  took one for the team last year in hopes that the economic climate would improve, and it did,” Gress said.

As for some of the heated reaction by parents today, Gress said: "People in Lake Forest are very passionate about just about everything. Parents are very supportive of education in our school system and the education of our young people is a team effort."

Asked whether the fact that this is the first strike in the school's history has particular meaning with teachers, Gress said: "It resonates that this is a turning point in our school's history."

Gress said teachers recognize that the national economy is still recovering, but they want a contract that allows the district to attract the best teachers.

He said a high percentage of teachers in the district have a master's or higher-level degree, and ACT scores have never been higher.

Potential changes in teacher evaluations haven't factored into contract negotiations -- a major sticking point among striking Chicago teachers -- because teachers and school board members are still working on an evaluation method based on the state's plan, Gress said. That work is independent of the contract negotiations, he said.

School officials complained that teachers came late to the bargaining table. The board said it offered to meet with teachers Monday evening, but the union did not to attend this meeting.

There was a brief mediation session after a board meeting Tuesday evening, but school officials and union leaders did not come to an agreement, according to the district.

A statement emailed to parents said "the board is very disappointed. We feel that leaving negotiations until the final hour is unfair to our students, parents and community. The board regrets that this timing creates such an imposition for our families."

lblack@tribune.com
jdanna@tribune.com
first teachers strike

For the first time in the district’s history, teachers in Lake Forest High School District 115 went on strike today after failing to reach an agreement over salaries during negotiations that ended just before midnight.

The walkout affects about 1,700 students and about 150 teachers.

Teachers set up a picket line in front of Lake Forest High School this morning, carrying yellow signs that read, "Lake Forest Teachers for a Fair Contract."

Some parents appeared displeased by the picketers, but a few students turned out in support.

"You make three times more than the average citizen in Chicagoland," a woman yelled. "What is the lesson for all the students today?"

A man joined the picket line -- but carried a sign telling the teachers to get back to work.

Mollie Blahunka, 17, a senior from Lake Bluff, handed out homemade cookies to teachers and hugged them.

"You guys support me every day so I'm here to support you," said Blahunka, who is the director of the junior-senior play "Wild Dust" and was planning to lead rehearsal today despite the strike.

An important field hockey game today against New Trier has been canceled.

“We were recently informed that the IHSA will strictly enforce the rules regarding interscholastic contests,” said school board President Sharon Golan. “This ruling prohibits us from participating in competition if the teachers go on strike. We are very disappointed with this decision as we believe it is in the best interest of our students to continue scheduled activities.”

“Many of our teams will be practicing today,” she added. “Our athletic trainers will be present.”

Some previously scheduled activities, including visits from college representatives, will continue at the high school. Meanwhile, the district says the school will be open to students between 7:50 a.m. and 3:10 p.m. and lunch will be served.

The Lake Forest school board released information on its offer to teachers Tuesday night, with about 75 people packing the board room.

Michael Hernandez, an attorney negotiating for the district, presented information on salary scales and benefits on a big screen. He described the union as being unreasonable during a time when the community has been “affected by foreclosures by people who lost their jobs.”

He criticized the union’s calculations on the district’s future reserves, saying, “We see these projections and don’t know where they came from.”

The board has offered pay increases of 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2013, 3.4 percent in 2014 and 3.4 percent in 2015, according to the district. It also has asked teachers to start paying for a percentage of their insurance coverage.

The union maintains that, since teachers’ pay was frozen last year in a one-year contract, the raises should be bumped up to the level they would have been if not for the freeze. The union proposed raises equal to 5.6 percent in 2013, 6.5 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in 2015, according to district figures.

Residents who spoke at the Tuesday meeting mostly sided with the board. Some said the teachers should take into account their work environment within an affluent community that does not scrimp on classroom resources.

“This is all going to fall back on the taxpayers in this town,” said Brad Kunde of Lake Forest. “I, for one, feel I pay enough.”

But Gail Gamrath of Lake Bluff, a parent of three elementary school students, supported the teachers and questioned the district’s comparisons of salaries with other districts. She is an administrator at New Trier Township High School District 203 in Winnetka.

“It saddens me to see what has transpired here,” Gamrath said, criticizing a Lake Forest proposal to hire new teachers on a different pay structure than those with experience. “We get what we pay for many times.”

Teachers and board members, aided by a federal mediator, have struggled to agree on even what dates to meet. No bargaining sessions have been scheduled.

Besides disagreement over salary raises, the teachers oppose the two-tiered salary structure proposed by the board. New teachers would make less money over time than teachers under the current structure, officials said.

“We are fearful if we, as a faculty, accept a contract that says new teachers will earn less over the course of their career, our district will no longer be able to compete,” said teachers spokesman Chuck Gress. “A teacher could work here two or three years … and then look elsewhere.”

He noted that teacher salaries were frozen last year in a one-year contract. "They  took one for the team last year in hopes that the economic climate would improve, and it did,” Gress said.

As for some of the heated reaction by parents today, Gress said: "People in Lake Forest are very passionate about just about everything. Parents are very supportive of education in our school system and the education of our young people is a team effort."

Asked whether the fact that this is the first strike in the school's history has particular meaning with teachers, Gress said: "It resonates that this is a turning point in our school's history."

Gress said teachers recognize that the national economy is still recovering, but they want a contract that allows the district to attract the best teachers.

He said a high percentage of teachers in the district have a master's or higher-level degree, and ACT scores have never been higher.

Potential changes in teacher evaluations haven't factored into contract negotiations -- a major sticking point among striking Chicago teachers -- because teachers and school board members are still working on an evaluation method based on the state's plan, Gress said. That work is independent of the contract negotiations, he said.

School officials complained that teachers came late to the bargaining table. The board said it offered to meet with teachers Monday evening, but the union did not to attend this meeting.

There was a brief mediation session after a board meeting Tuesday evening, but school officials and union leaders did not come to an agreement, according to the district.

A statement emailed to parents said "the board is very disappointed. We feel that leaving negotiations until the final hour is unfair to our students, parents and community. The board regrets that this timing creates such an imposition for our families."

lblack@tribune.com
jdanna@tribune.com

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