EDWARDSVILLE, IL. (KPLR) - It was a raucous showdown at a school board meeting in Edwardsville, Monday night. Teachers there are threatening to strike.
That threat still stands.
Teachers left the meeting still having authorized a strike but having yet to set a date, though union leaders said that strike could come as early as August 24th, a week from Friday; 9 days after first day of school Wednesday, August 15th.
There were a couple of standing ovations for the teachers as they and their backers made the case for better pay and smaller class sizes in a new 3 year contract. There were more than 500 people in the Woodland Elementary School gym for the meeting, half of more of them teachers.
There are more than 500 teachers in this district of about 7500 students.
Before the meeting, more than 200 teachers picketed along the highway outside of Woodland.
District leaders admit their “last, best” offer, will increase class sizes by 2-3 students per class, but also point out teachers will get 4% raises over 3 years, after a pay freeze in year 1; the district will continue to pay 100% of teachers’ health insurance premiums and 100% of the teachers’ share of their retirement fund.
Teachers say the raises actually come to 1-2% and insist the key issue is class size, not money.
“The vast majority of the people with signs here are teachers,” said Dave Boedeker, a high school astronomy teacher and union representative for the Edwardsville Education Association. “We’ve been getting lots of honks and lots of waves (from passing drivers). I think the community understands one of our biggest issues is class size. They realize how important it is to the quality of education. “
“The proposed class size increases are alarming,” said parent, Elise Rebmann. “We ask our elected board members to attend negotiations and give voice to our concerns,” she concluded, to thunderous applause.
“We start talking 27, 30, 33 kids per class, they’re not getting an education. These are austerity cuts on our kids,” parent, Mark Huebner told the school board inside the meeting, to another loud round of applause.
There were parents who sided with the board.
“All I’ve heard is whining,” parent, John Birch, said of the teachers. He told them they needed to consider what their demands were doing to the community.
“I applaud the school board for not coming back to the local taxpayer in this economic climate that we’re in,” said parent, Keith Poettker.
“It’s just the wrong time to ask people to open their pocketbooks for a tax increase. People are hurting. People are out of jobs,” said Edwardsville Superintendant, Ed Hightower.
He said Edwardsville voters had not passed a tax increase for schools for 30 years and the concerns about class size were overblown.
“Class size has always been important in this community, but when you’ve added 26 teachers and you’ve added $1.2 million dollars for this year... I gave the numbers tonight.
I’m not talking from an emotional point of few. I’m talking facts.”
He said he was open to going back to the table, but the meeting ended with no plan for either side to do so.