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In search of cooler heads on the 7th day

Contract negotiations resume at 1 p.m. today in the Dixon teachers strike. The walkout has frayed nerves. Seven days of lost educational opportunities for students is enough. Let negotiators not rest until a deal is reached.

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

As the Dixon teachers strike enters its seventh day, further signs are apparent of strained relations between the teachers and Dixon School Board.

We hope such signs represent no more than the routine posturing that adversarial negotiations sometimes produce.

Teachers, at a public meeting Wednesday evening sponsored by the Dixon Education Association, told parents in attendance that negotiations were at a standstill with no agreement in sight.

With the next bargaining session not scheduled until 1 p.m. today, Dolph Ricks, union negotiator, appealed to parents to wield their influence.

“The only way this strike can be resolved is by you, the parents, and you voicing your opinion to the board,” Ricks said. “These schools are yours. The board works for you. It’s not going to happen at the [bargaining table] for us anymore. We’re stuck. We need you to take it over, so we can move.”

“Stuck”? That’s an interesting bargaining position, but that’s all it is. Teachers might not want to move from their latest counter-offer, but they almost certainly will need to if a settlement is in our future.

We like Mr. Ricks’ suggestion that the school board hear from the community – and not just parents, but all Dixon residents and taxpayers, which is the board’s constituency. We suspect the teachers union might not be so eager to inject community-wide opinion into the process, so they encourage such public input at some risk.

Meanwhile, the school district faces a March 15 state deadline to have its students take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Board President Tom Balser said the test must be taken – teachers or no teachers.

Asserting that the teachers “deliberately went out on strike” in advance of the tests, Balser stated: “We cannot wait any longer. The board has asked the administration to make plans for students to return to school for ISAT testing beginning next week, with or without the teachers.”

Who will administer the tests? Details will be released today.

But we’re pleased to see that the board members are, in this instance, serious about their responsibility to operate the schools, even if the teachers’ bargaining unit is “stuck.”

Bringing students back to school for the ISAT exams cannot be interpreted as a step toward resuming classes with replacement teachers – an option the administration has not wanted to discuss. But we must assume the board has a contingency plan if the teachers union is unwilling to negotiate its latest position.

On the other hand, the April 9 school board election is barely a month away. Four of the board’s seven seats are on the ballot, and half of the six candidates are incumbents (Balser is not seeking re-election), so at least one incumbent will be re-elected.

Perhaps the DEA will exert its influence in the April 9 election to try to “hire” replacement board members.

We prefer that cooler heads prevail.

Seven days of canceled classes is enough.

Seven days of lost educational opportunities for Dixon’s 2,781 students is enough.

Salary, health insurance, and retirement reportedly remain the points of contention in the talks. Both sides have modified their positions, so why not finish the job?

On the seventh day, let negotiators not rest until a settlement is reached.

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