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Union decides to strike

School board plans to meet tonight

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 9:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 10:50 a.m. CST
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Dixon High School students trudge through the snow Tuesday after the district let out classes early because of the weather. Today could be the last day Dixon schools are in session for a while. Teachers there will call for a strike to begin Thursday. They have been working without a contract since August.

DIXON – Teachers have been asked to provide 5 days' worth of lesson plans and to turn in their keys at the end of the school day today.

Citing "very little progress" in Monday's negotiations, the Dixon Education Association said it will go on strike at the start of the school day Thursday.

"With that, we will not be allowed into the school until the strike is finished," said Sandi Sodergren-Baar, DEA president.

The union informed the Dixon school board of its decision early Tuesday, after contract negotiations went past 2 a.m.

Classes in the 2,781-student district will be canceled until the strike is lifted. How many make-up days will be scheduled will be negotiated, Superintendent Michael Juenger.

The board is holding a special meeting at 7 tonight at Reagan Middle School to take public comment, then members will meet in closed session about contract talks.

Teachers and the school board are narrowing their focus to three contract priorities for Thursday's negotiation session.

Teachers have been working without a contract since August, and talks have been ongoing since March.

"Very little progress was made in resolving the big issues," Sodergren-Baar said of the latest contract talks. "We are still very far apart, and it looks like additional progress will not be made before our next bargaining session scheduled for Thursday night."

Teachers will approach Thursday as a workday, she said.

"Our crisis team has assignments for all the teachers. They'll be picketing, making phone calls, doing a number of activities to create public awareness of the strike, and to continue to let people know our concerns.

"We want a settlement. It's not to cause problems for parents, for the school board, or administrators. It's simply about a fair settlement."

Teachers offered to negotiate Tuesday and today, but the board said the soonest it could meet would be Thursday, Sodergren-Baar said. The union also wanted to meet again either Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The next session after Thursday, however, is Monday.

"We wish there could have been an agreement reached [Tuesday], and apologize to the parents of all of our students," Sodergren-Baar said. "We realize this will create a disruption to the education of their children. The DEA encourages parents to contact their school board members and ask them to prioritize these negotiations and encourage the board to meet more often than once every fourth day."

School Board President Tom Balser released a statement saying the union would not move off its current position until a strike is called, making a negotiation session tonight useless.

“The board will be meeting in closed session [today] to address all of the issues raised by the strike, from trying to find a solution that does not adversely affect the district’s already fragile financial condition to providing day care to students during the strike," Balser said.

Juenger said the board hopes to come away with a firm number for how much the district can spend in the contract through teachers' proposals.

Several issues remain to be resolved, he said. One estimate says teachers' proposals for staffing, salaries and benefits would cost the district $2.3 million more a year over the life of a 5-year contract.

With the district projecting a $1.6 million deficit this year, Juenger said, those proposals would wipe out the $4.2 million surplus in its education fund and $10.2 million surplus in its operating funds.

General state aid, which provides more than 20 percent of the district's education fund revenue, is expected to decrease by as much as 9 percent next year.

"The [teacher proposals] clearly exhaust our fund balances," Juenger said. "The board doesn't feel like it can give away our future."

Teachers' salaries can be paid only from the education fund. Money from other funds can be transferred into the education fund through a public hearing and board vote.

Sodergren-Baar said teachers believe the money is there to meet their requests, which include pay increases and more staff for special education.

"We are a public entity," the union president said. "We're not in business to make money. Our business is to educate the students of Dixon, and if for a short time period that means you have to deficit spend to meet students' needs, would that be such a bad thing?"

What are they asking for?

Salary:

– The Dixon Education Association is asking 3.75 percent new money to be added to the salary schedule. Under its last contract, many teachers received built-in pay increases based on experience or education; this would be a 3.75-percent increase to those raises. Teachers are against getting rid of built-in raises.

– The Dixon School Board is offering 1 percent pay increases for 2 years and wants to do away with the salary schedule, and wants teachers to agree to add 10 days to their contract and work 40 more minutes per day. The cost of this proposal is about $75,000 per year.

Health insurance:

– The school board is asking teachers to pay $85 a month for a single plan and $331 a month for a family plan, and it wants teachers with a spouse to agree to take their spouse's insurance plan if they are eligible for family insurance.

– Teachers are opposed.

Staff:

– Teachers informally asked for five more teachers to meet special education needs at an estimated $40,000 to $55,000 per teacher.

– The board is not in favor of adding staff.

To attend

The Dixon School Board meets at 7 tonight at Reagan Middle School, 620 Division St. The board will take public comment and then go into closed session.

Go to dixonschools.org or call 815-284-7722 for an agenda.

Click here for the latest offer from the Dixon School Board

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