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Dixon schools strike over

Early-morning agreement reached; classes will resume today

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 2:29 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 2:48 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukval)
Dixon High School students huddle near the front door of the school as they wait for rides home Feb. 26. Today, students in the district will return to classes for the first time since Feb. 27, as the strike by teachers that resulted in nine days being canceled ended early this morning.

DIXON — For the first time since Feb. 27, Dixon public schools will be open for a school day, the board and teachers said in a news release this morning.

The board and the Dixon Education Association reached an agreement on a 4-year contract about 1:40 a.m. today.

The agreement was reached after nearly 8 hours of negotiations that began at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Neither Superintendent Michael Juenger nor DEA President Sandi Sodergren-Baar would comment further this morning.

Teachers, who had been working without a contract since August, went on strike Feb. 28. Nine days of classes were canceled.

The specific details of the contract will be made available after the teachers ratify and the board approves the tentative agreement, according to the release.

The DEA plans to ratify the agreement on Monday, and the board plans to approve the contract at its March 20 meeting.

Both students and teachers will return to school today, and begin Illinois Standard Achievement Tests by the end of this week.

Because of the short time between the agreement and the beginning of the school day, students who do not attend today will receive an excused absence, the district said.

The news release said the board and union affirmed that with this strike being resolved, "it is time for the parties to put any disagreements behind them and move forward in a positive direction for the benefit of the students, parents and community."

“With the assistance of the federal mediator, both parties worked hard to find creative solutions to resolve the outstanding issues,” Sodergren-Baar said.

“We are confident that the settlement is the best one for our schools and will keep the district moving forward,” said board President Tom Balser. 

Earlier Tuesday, Juenger issued a statement from the board that said it was "cautiously optimistic about the potential of achieving a resolution at [Tuesday's] session as the parties have already reached agreement on most noneconomic issues."

The federal mediator assigned to assist in negotiations called both sides back to the table Tuesday, according to a news release from the teachers union.

Teachers left talks early Monday, saying they were not interested in resuming negotiations until the board was ready to get a deal done.

Sodergren-Baar said she reached out through the mediator to board members to try to have more face-to-face talks, instead of passing proposals back and forth through the mediator.

She said she believed direct interactions could change the atmosphere of talks in a positive way.

Teachers even reached out to the mayor.

Mayor Jim Burke said he met with Juenger for about an hour Tuesday to find out if there was anything the city could do to help both sides reach a resolution. Burke said he received a phone call from union members.

In its offer heading into Tuesday's talks, the Dixon Education Association was asking for a soft freeze in the first year, which would be an average of about a 2 percent pay increase for teachers who qualify for step increases based on experience and education, with a 2 percent increase for teachers who do not qualify for step increases.

In the second year, teachers were asking for a 2 percent increase, plus step increases, with a $400 bonus in the bachelor's lane of education and $750 in the master's lane for those who have maximized their step increases.

Teachers were asking for a 1.75 percent increase in the third year, with a $400 bonus in the bachelor's lane of education and $750 in the master's lane for those who have maximized their step increases.

In the fourth and final year, the DEA was asking for a 2.5 percent increase, plus step increases.

In its latest shared proposal, the board was offering all teachers a 2 percent bonus to their base in the first year of a 2-year proposal, with no steps. In the second year, the board was offering a 2 percent increase and step increases.

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