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Let’s talk again on Sunday

More progress made in Dixon school talks; Monday school status not determined

Teachers picket outside at Dixon High School during day one of the strike.
Teachers picket outside at Dixon High School during day one of the strike.

DIXON – Contract talks are progressing.

After 6 hours of negotiations that went late into Thursday and 3 more hours of face-to-face talks Friday, that was the joint message the Dixon Education Association and Dixon School Board gave to the public Friday.

Schools remained closed as the strike by the district’s 168 teachers went into its second day. Whether classes are canceled Monday will depend on this weekend’s negotiations.

Talks will resume Sunday at 1 p.m., with no set finish time.

Whenever a settlement is reached, 5 a.m. has been set as the time by which district administrators must determine whether school will be in session that day.

Parents, students and staff will be notified by the same methods of communication that are used for a snow day.

Neither side would say Friday if they were close to an agreement, or when one might be reached.

Teachers have been working without a contract since August. Including Friday’s negotiations, both sides have met 20 times since last March.

Just before negotiations Friday, Superintendent Michael Juenger said the session was the first face-to-face talks between the two sides “in awhile.” Negotiations have been through a mediator since December.

Jim Russell of the Illinois Association of School Boards said his organization does not comment on local districts’ negotiations, because it is hard to determine what goes on behind closed doors.

His organization receives one question the most when it pertains to strikes: “As a parent, what can I do?”

“I’ll say this much,” Russell said, “parents really are on the sidelines during a strike and during negotiations. They don’t have a role, per se. Certainly both sides may appeal to parents, and of course they do.

“The role is limited. Parents don’t negotiate. They can show up at public meetings, picket lines, voice their opinions in newspapers. But I’d also warn them to be careful not to be used by either side.”

Russell said there have been six work stoppages by teachers in Illinois this school year, a significant increase over recent years, when one to three strikes per year was the norm. 

Why the increase?

“Some say the recent increase in strikes are a response to the current financial climate and state budget shortfalls that have forced districts to make drastic funding cuts and teachers to accept concessions,” according to information from IASB’s bulletin.

Dixon’s strike has followed suit.

Teachers have said the district has enough of a surplus to meet their proposals, pointing to the $4.2 million reserve in the education fund and $10.2 million in the district’s operating funds.

The school board, however, contests those surpluses will soon dwindle as general state aid continues to be cut. The district projects a $1.6 million deficit this year.

In their last publicly-stated offer, teachers were asking for an annual pay increase of 3.75 percent on top of built-in salary incentives for experience or education over the life of a 5-year contract, meaning a number of teachers would receive pay raises of between 5 and 6 percent per year under the proposal.

In its last publicly-stated offer, the Dixon school board was offering 1 percent pay increases for 2 years, while doing away with the salary schedule and asking the teachers to work more. At the time, both sides debated how much more work the language of the offer meant.

The school board also asked 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.

What's next?

• The teachers' negotiating team and the school board are scheduled to meet for contract talks at 1 p.m. Sunday, and again Monday if necessary.

• Classes for Monday have yet to be cancelled. The cutoff for an agreement to come is 5 a.m. 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.

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