CHAMPAIGN — Champaign teachers again picketed outside the school district's administrative building Monday evening before the school board met inside.
The union that represents them is still negotiating a contract with the district, and members have taken the first steps toward a strike.
More teachers attended Monday than almost two weeks ago, when the Champaign Federation of Teachers picketed in record-breaking heat. Union President Cathy Mannen estimated the crowd at 250.
Teachers held signs that said things like, "Supporting teachers supports education," and "2, 4, 6, 8, won't you negotiate?"
The district and union have a bargaining session scheduled Wednesday with a federal mediator.
If they can't come to resolution, both will have to send their most current offers to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which would post them on its website the next week.
That would be one more step in the process for teachers to strike; the offers would have to be posted for two weeks before a strike could happen.
The teachers would also have to file an intent-to-strike notice with the board 10 days before striking. That could happen concurrently, but just because teachers could strike in mid-October doesn't mean they will, Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said last week.
Mannen told teachers Monday that the union's negotiating team wants to settle a fair contract Wednesday and is willing to stay until an agreement is worked out.
"Our No. 1 priority is to reach a fair settlement," she told teachers.
Mannen said union members invited parents to their picket Monday and said she appreciated that some came.
"It's an opportunity for teachers and parents to encourage the board to work with the teachers and come to a compromise," she said.
Mannen said parents see how hard teachers work and create partnerships with kids and families.
Several parents addressed the school board on the topic of negotiations Monday night.
Sheri Williamson told the board that parent engagement starts with teachers, and that the latter should be valued as employees.
She said she encourages "administrators and the board to support our most precious possessions, our students," by supporting teachers.
Resident Laura Christensen said she saw a teacher working at Carrie Busey Elementary last week at 9:30 p.m., and noticed teachers' cars there for more than three hours Sunday afternoon.
"Teachers aren't being compensated for that time," Christensen told the board. "I just really hope that we're able to come to a fair agreement."
Christensen said a strike would affect everyone involved, but especially would be "catastrophic" for students with special needs.
Resident Elizabeth Hess told administrators about her time volunteering at Barkstall Elementary and how all staff members work together there, and she wants teachers to know they're valued.
"Please find a way to respect and honor the employees of Unit 4," without a strike, she asked the board.
School board President Laurie Bonnett said she did not want to comment on the teachers' picket.