MENDOTA – A pregnant mother who carries the family insurance. A recent graduate with student debt who lives at home with her parents. A father who just bought a house with his wife.
These are the faces of Mendota Elementary’s strike.
Wednesday morning, Mendota Elementary teachers arrived to Northbrook School to picket along the sidewalks. There are about 1,100 students in the three elementary schools and 76 union members.
The union submitted an email to the NewsTribune from the board stating the board of education can’t meet today “due to work schedules and prior commitments” but that the board can meet Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon.
The union indicated they are free today.
A date hasn’t been announced as to when the parties will meet.
Second grade teacher Kaitlynn Sondgeroth of Mendota was one of the strikers to pick up a sign. Sondgeroth is pregnant and has a 2-year-old at home.
“I do carry the family insurance because my husband is self employed,” Sondgeroth said. “The insurance is a huge deal to me and my family.”
She’s in her ninth year of teaching and second year at Mendota’s district; she left a school where she got paid more and had better benefits to be in Mendota.
“I chose to come to Mendota because we are local,” she said. “I want to be in this district, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Kindergarten and English as a Second Language teacher Aubrey Smith of Princeton graduated from college in 2018 and owes roughly $35,000 in student debt. She lives at home with her parents in Princeton; she works a second job teaching dance, and she also works a full-time job all summer long.
“I would prefer to live on my own but to save to money and to save for a wedding next June, I’ve had to live at home,” she said.
If the teachers were given the contracts they are asking for, she said, “It would definitely make a dent in being able to be more self efficient and be able to provide for my self better.”
Her fiance recently got a new job, so they’ll be moving, that would involve a far commute: “I love this district, and I would love (to) stay here, but again, with my potential commute because of my fiance’s job, it would depend if I can afford to stay here.”
“I have a great supportive staff,” Smith said. “I have a great group of kids.”
Physical education teacher for second and third graders Matt Chalfin of Sandwich just bought a house with his wife, and they have a 9-year-old daughter.
He was hired in September for this job.
He owes north of $30,000 in student debt, and on top of his teaching job he works full time in the summer installing pools from sun up to sun set to make ends meet.
“Paying student loans takes up basically one of my monthly paychecks,” he said, and the rest goes toward mortgage and other bills.
About the strike he said: “We’re not doing this for no reason. It’s not because we’re selfish. I don’t think any teacher I’ve ever met is selfish.”
He said he’s noticed that other school districts get “substantially more than we do” in terms of salaries and benefits.
“If you don’t have teachers who want to stay in the district, you’re not going to have the quality teachers that we want for our kids,” Sondgeroth said.