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Strike has attention of districts

(From left to right) Tad Everett, Dan Arickx and Jeff Thake.
(From left to right) Tad Everett, Dan Arickx and Jeff Thake.

From Sterling to Amboy, all eyes are on the Dixon teachers strike.

Local school district administrators, and especially other teachers, are watching the negotiations not only out of curiosity, but also out of concern.

Friday marked the seventh day classes were canceled in Dixon. Teachers have been working without a contract since August and negotiating since last March.

Local school districts – even those like Sterling and Rock Falls Elementary that are a year out from negotiations – now are on notice.

“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t watching to see what happens,” Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett said.

Administrators are watching for the issues that are the root of the divide between the Dixon school board and the teachers union.

The Dixon Education Association has spoken out against the board asking its members to give up its salary schedule with step increases for experience and education, as well as asking new employees’ spouses to take their own insurance.

“It gives you an idea ... of what might be coming around the corner for other districts,” Rock Falls Elementary Superintendent Dan Arickx said. “What the concerns are are what some of the hang-up points might be.

“We just try to learn from that.”

Amboy School District Superintendent Jeff Thake added: “I follow the stories closely. I look for the pros and the cons from both sides.”

Teachers are watching, too.

“Whatever they’re talking about could absolutely impact our discussions,” said Denise Harts, the Sterling teachers union president. “But until we get to the table, it’s hard to say.”

The Illinois Association of School Boards reports there have been six work stoppages by teachers in Illinois this school year. That’s a significant increase over recent years, when one to three strikes per year was the norm. The association cites the financial climate and state budget shortfalls that have forced districts to make drastic funding cuts and teachers to accept concessions.

Dixon’s negotiations might not have direct implications for other districts, but they do have a marked effect on the community – one that stretches beyond the city limits.

“This will impact relationships, working and personal, and that’s what makes it difficult,” Everett said. “We have to go back to work with these people, back to school with these people, both sides. ... Strikes create mini civil wars in communities. It’s difficult, to say the least.”

Local school districts often share services or work together on initiatives. Local administrators work closely. Local teachers are friends.

“We have to look out for one another,” Everett said. “We’re concerned about the people we work with, ... about the impact that something as serious as a strike has on our community.”

Administrators and teachers agree: The students, who have not been in school since Feb. 27, are losing out.

“The No. 1 disadvantage is the kids aren’t in their classrooms learning,” Harts said.

“It’s a bad situation for everybody,” Arickx said. “From the perspective of the school board and the administration, they’re trying to take as much care of the taxpayers’ money as they can and not be frivolous, and from the perspective of the association, they’re looking out for each other and for the kids. ...The only people who lose are the kids and the families in the community.”

When district contracts expire

Most local school districts are in the middle of their teacher contracts. Here's when the contracts expire:

– Amboy: Expires August 2014

– Ashton-Franklin Center: Expires September 2014

– Chadwick-Milledgeville: Expires next year

– East Coloma: Expires this year

– Erie: Teachers worked without a contract from August to January. They ratified a new contract in January. It expires in 2015.

– Montmorency: Expires next year

– Morrison: Expires next year

– Nelson: Teachers do not have a collective bargaining agreement.

– Oregon: Expires this year

– Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico: Expires this year

– Rock Falls Elementary: Expires next year

– Rock Falls High School: Expires next year

– Sterling: Expires next year

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