DIXON – Dixon schools Superintendent Michael Juenger reported "some progress" in late-night negotiations Thursday.
Talks between the school board and the Dixon teachers union ended in the early-morning hours, but were set to resume at 10 a.m. today. The negotiations are scheduled to continue through 1 p.m.
After the first day of a teachers strike Thursday, the Dixon Education Association and the school board met behind closed doors in hopes of moving closer to an agreement.
Earlier in the day, Larry Lindenmier recalled contract talks starting last March.
One year later, the Dixon High School science teacher was walking a picket line and carrying a sign asking for a fair contract.
His colleagues joined him in 30-degree temperatures Thursday, marching in front of all Dixon public schools, the administration building and the Galena Avenue Bridge for Day 1 of what they hope is a short strike.
Although it means shutting down the school, Lindenmier said he knows teachers are doing the right thing.
"What (the board) offered is, in most teachers' opinion, demeaning; we can't afford to go backward that much," Lindenmier said, referring to the board's offer of a 1 percent salary increase that restructures how teachers get raises and $5,000 more for family health insurance.
"I feel sorry for a lot of these young teachers starting out, only getting 1 percent increase, you know for $30,000 starting out. It's going to take them forever to make a living."
Classes were canceled Thursday and may not resume until the strike is settled. Both sides met Thursday evening to continue negotiations.
Reporting to a downtown office the union is renting out on First Avenue, teachers were assigned to picket in front of certain schools and rotate, according to a schedule, staying busy for the length of a regular school day.
Many of the teachers picketed in front of the buildings where they teach, sometimes receiving honks from passing drivers showing their support.
Some teachers stayed back at the office to either take part in constructing the next offer with the union's negotiating team or to field questions from the public.
For example, Candy Lind, a seventh-grade language arts instructor, walked the sidewalks with her co-workers in front of Reagan Middle School, not too far from students who used their day off to play in the school parking lots' snow piles.
Lind wanted the community to know this strike is not all about money.
"A big thing is that we feel we don't have enough staff," Lind said. "In some cases, extremely low-level students are being placed in regular classrooms with no services provided."
Teachers are asking for five more staff members to fill special education needs, union President Sandi Sodergren-Baar said.
Despite cuts to the teaching staff, Superintendent Michael Juenger said student achievement has not shown decline, for the most part, in testing results.
Teachers also want better technology, more textbooks and smaller class sizes. All together, teachers have more than 50 proposals on the table, according to the union's last published offer. Teachers have changed their offer since then, but it has not been shared in its entirety.
Several individuals and groups showed their support for teachers by donating food, coffee and signs. One supporter dropped off a sign in Spanish that read, "Los padres apoyan los maestros of Dixon." Translation: "The parents support the teachers of Dixon."
A snowman made in front of the administration building had a sign in its hand in support of a fair contract.
"We want to be treated fairly," said Stacey Hansen, an 18-year English teacher at Dixon High School. "A lot of it this year is our working conditions, a lot of it goes back to money, making sure we have what we need to teach our children, our students."
Class sizes are an example, said Charlie Beck, an English teacher at Dixon High.
She teaches a research class with 28 students and only 11 textbooks, she said.
The district budgeted $105,438 for textbooks this year.
Juenger said timing is a factor in purchasing textbooks. With the state's Common Core curriculum taking shape in the next 2 years, the district wants to be sure when it buys textbooks, they will not need to be replaced in the next 2 years.
"Certainly, there's still a willingness to purchase textbooks where they are needed," Juenger said. "We are dependent on teachers to let us know what's needed."
Juenger said the board determined Wednesday a solid foundation for what the teachers' contract can cost the district.
"They are prepared," Juenger said. "They know how far they can go in the contract, before it makes them uncomfortable."
When asked about it, Juenger said the board has not had any conversations in regard to replacements or substitutes crossing the picket line.
"I hope we don't even have to have that conversation," he said. "My hope is that we settle this thing."
That remains the one agreement. Both sides don't want a strike to drag on.
"Nobody wants to be on strike here," Lindenmier said. "It isn't pleasant duty, but we don't have a choice."
The teachers' negotiating team and the School Board will hold more contract talks Monday.
Teachers will host an informational question-and-answer session for the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Elks Club, 1279 Franklin Grove Road.
We've put together a comprehensive resource page to help readers follow and track the negotiations. Click here to visit.