Champaign teachers take protest over stalled contract talks to board

Champaign teachers take protest over stalled contract talks to board

CHAMPAIGN — A protest led by teachers over stalled contract negotiations, a plea from a real-estate lawyer for the district to speed up negotiations with the homeowners he represents and the re-inclusion of lights at a renovated McKinley Field all made appearances at Monday night's school board meeting.

So many individuals from the Champaign Federation of Teachers came to the Mellon Administration building that bodies spilled out of doorways.

Though union members were boisterous outside, gathering in a circle and cheering on President Jen White, during the meeting, they were mostly quiet — aside from some bursts of applause — allowing signs saying "Champaign Unit 4 teacher working without a contract," "Support our teachers" and "Be fair" to speak for them.

Six weeks into the school year with no contract and negotiations stalling along the way, the teachers showed up to hear White again tell the board about the union's concerns: class size, teacher home visits to students and extra professional requirements.

"We live in a profession where we are constantly scrutinized and falling short — it seems that no matter what we do, it is never enough, and the solution just seems to be to do more," White said. "When I talk to my teachers out there, they are drowning. Not drowning in the work of teaching, not drowning in the work of their students. They are drowning with all the extra — the extra requirements that we are constantly having to do to prove our worth. It's exhausting."

White said after Monday's meeting that a federal mediator is slated to be in Champaign on Oct. 8 to continue talks between the union and district.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing the residents of a Church street home in the path of a planned expansion of Central High School indicated that inaction by the district seems to be the only thing now holding up a resolution with his clients.

Paul Cole, who has been representing Tim and Debra Bowers for more than a year after they realized that the expansion could negatively affect their home and hoped to reach a financial agreement with the district, said his comment was prompted a month of unresponsiveness.

"I provided to the board a response to the board's offer that had been recently received by me and my clients," Cole said. "That was four weeks ago — since that time, I've had no further communication from the board or its counsel ... until this afternoon, when I was told that nothing yet had been done and that there would be no immediate reply. Since the offer the board has made concerning this property apparently represents a financial settlement that would be acceptable to the Bowerses, there really are very few other issues that need to be resolved, and I would think they could be resolved in short order."

In other news, the board unanimously approved a budget for fiscal year 2019 that didn't include teacher salaries or benefits.

Among the items that were included, though, was an increase of just over $400,000 so that lights would again be part of McKinley Field renovations. That addition was approved unanimously. The lights were added back to the project's plan per the board's request, with member Kathy Shannon explaining, "We do not want to back on our promise because (the lights) were the compromise we made" during original referendum negotiations.

The board also unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement between it and the city about the field that includes a provision saying it is to be used for "Unit 4 athletic and educational purposes with the exception of varsity football games."

Elizabeth Stegmaier, the district's director of capital projects and planning, said that wording could be amended before the agreement goes before the city council for a vote Oct. 2.

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