GALESBURG – In the first strike in Galesburg in 37 years, teachers in the northwestern Illinois city began walking the picket lines Wednesday after their union rejected a contract offered by the public school district.
The 500-member union and district officials disputed the role state finances played in the breakdown of negotiations. The strike will affect extracurricular activities, including sports practices, which will be canceled during the work stoppage. School had been scheduled to start Thursday.
“Given the state’s cuts in General State Aid, Transportation and other budget line items, we simply cannot go beyond our final offer and still fulfill our obligation to continue to provide top-quality educational opportunities for Galesburg students not only now but in future years,” according to statement posted on the District 205 website from Superintendent Bart Arthur and school board President Michael Panther.
The Galesburg Education Association countered that its issues aren’t related to state finances. “Blaming the state of Illinois for our problems with finances is an old standby,” the union’s statement said. The unions said the contract doesn’t include fair working conditions, including just cause for dismissal.
The offer teachers rejected amounted to a 5.04 percent increase over the next three years, according to the school district. Arthur and Panther’s statement called that amount fair “given the economic situation in Galesburg and in our state and nation.”
The union turned down the offer late Tuesday after more than 15 hours of mediation over two days.
Union spokeswoman Tami Qualls told WGIL-AM she believes the community supports the teachers.
“We are doing what we think is best for our students and our community,” Qualls said. “You can’t offer a contract that is not worthwhile, that’s not comparable to our area.”