McHENRY – The teachers union for McHenry Community High School District 156 has authorized a call to strike in October after contract negotiations have made little progress, union representatives said.
The authorization, which gives the negotiations team permission to call a strike on or about Oct. 1, recently was announced in a news release from the roughly 160-member McHenry Community High School Education Association. It cited a “lack of meaningful progress in negotiations with the school board.”
Compensation and insurance contributions represent some of the key issues keeping the two sides at odds, according to the release.
“We are having a difficult time attracting and maintaining quality teachers and staff. McHenry High School is losing good people to the surrounding communities,” Ryan Ellison, co-president of the association, said in the release. “The board’s current proposal will make this situation worse, and this will have a lasting impact on the educational program, students and community for many years to come.”
Negotiations began in March and entered into federal mediation over the summer. The release said the association’s negotiation team is working “nonstop to avoid a strike.”
According to union officials, the school board is proposing to eliminate the association’s salary schedule and asking for members to pay half the 4.5 percent insurance increase for next year, although teachers are asking to maintain the salary schedule and stipends to offset the anticipated insurance increases.
The union also said there have been cuts in coaching and co-curricular pay, as well as one hard pay freeze and soft freezes in past contracts, despite the district having excess revenues over expenses the past three years.
Union spokeswoman Heidi Dunn said the excess revenues considered by the association represent the total excess across funds.
The last budget shows the educational fund, from which salaries are paid, experienced a healthy surplus by the end of the fiscal year, but that fund was in the red the two previous fiscal years.
Gary Kinshofer, lead negotiator for the school board, said he would not speak about specific terms of the offers made thus far until the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board posts both parties’ materials online.
At the beginning of the negotiation process, the board was open to holding negotiations in a public forum rather than executive session, but the notion was rejected by the union, Kinshofer said.
“I will say that we think we made a fair offer in light of the current economic environment, and we are still willing to negotiate to find an amicable agreement,” Kinshofer said, later expressing disappointment about the authorization to strike. “We, as a board, never lock them out. It’s their decision to walk out on our students.”
The announcement from the association comes after a recent negotiation session was canceled by the board, union officials said, adding it was a session that could have helped avoid a scheduled strike.
“The association is committed to working with the school board to settle a contract that is both fair to the teachers and will provide quality education for the McHenry community,” Ellison said. “We are extremely upset that the planned negotiations session that was scheduled for Sept. 10 was canceled by the board, and are hopeful that we will be able to reschedule more sessions so a successful conclusion to negotiations is determined.”
The most recent two-year contract was settled after nine months of negotiations, which nearly resulted in a strike.
Under that agreement, educators did not receive an increase to the base salary, but did receive a 1.7 percent raise, based on inflation, for the first year. They did not take a step on the experience side of the district’s salary schedule, but did so the next year when salaries reverted to pre-contract levels.
District 156 teachers have been working without a contract since mid-August.