Superintendent: No talk of replacements

Juenger: District focused on talks, not looking at options

Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON — No plans have been made to hire replacement teachers or to file for arbitration, said Superintendent Michael Juenger.

Classes were canceled Friday for the seventh day as members of the Dixon Education Association remain on strike.

As the strike extends and more uncertainty sets in as to how long it could go, Juenger said the focus remains on settling the contract rather than making contingency plans. Teachers have been working without a contract since August.

“We’ve had no conversation to replace teachers or anything like that,” Juenger said. “There haven’t been any real contigency plans, other than trying to address the district’s responsibility to test students.”

Wednesday, school board President Tom Balser said the district planned to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test next week – with or without teachers. Friday, however, the district said it did not plan to administer the ISATs until the strike has been resolved.

As for arbitration, Juenger said it is an option, but one that the board and teachers have not discussed. Both sides would have to agree to have an arbitrator determine the contract terms, said John Brosnan, special counsel for the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Neither Juenger nor Brosnan can recall an Illinois district using arbitration to settle a strike.

Brosnan said arbitration is rare, because it takes the power away from those negotiating.

“You don’t know how it will turn out,” Brosnan said. “When a contract still is in negotiations, both sides can prioritize issues that are out there. Maybe one side will give away a couple of things, because other issues are more important to retain.”

Once a strike is declared, the labor board remains on the sidelines for the duration, Brosnan said. There is no legal limit on the length of a strike.

Brosnan said the board could file an injunction – a court order that could require a certain number of teachers to return to work.

To do so, however, the board would have to persuade a judge that there is a “clear and present danger to the public,” which in the case of a school district would be a tough argument to make, Brosnan said.

As for replacements, the board is required to hire a certain number of certified teachers and have its curriculum approved by the Illinois State Board of Education for a school day to count.

To be certified, individuals must complete a state-approved certificate preparation program (or have a valid and comparable out-of-state certificate), meet all coursework and testing requirements, and meet all other requirements detailed in Illinois statutes and rules, according to the state board’s website. 

Lake Forest High School hired replacements in September. It has about 1,800 students, compared to Dixon’s 2,781.

“It’s tough to get enough certified teachers in place to replace existing teachers,” Brosnan said. “For a smaller district, maybe that’s more of an option.”

In many cases, a federal mediator and public pressure are the two best catalysts to settle a dispute, Brosnan said.

In Dixon, a federal mediator has been working with both sides since November.

“A federal mediator is there to keep them focused,” Brosnan said. “They are good at moving these things along.”

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