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D-46 teachers union files intent to strike notice

PRAIRIE GROVE – District 46 officials on Tuesday received an intent-to-strike notice from the Prairie Grove Teachers’ Association.

The union is required to provide a 10-day notice ahead of a strike. But no decision has been made on a strike date, the union said in an email.

The union said 93 percent of its 73 members voted in favor of authorizing a strike after being disappointed “yet again” during a five-hour negotiation session Aug. 21.

Superintendent Lynette Zimmer said the school board is trying to get another date from the teachers union to return to the negotiating table.

“I’m positive things can be worked out,” Zimmer said. “Right now, the biggest barrier is getting a new date.”

The sticking points traditionally have been salary and benefits, Zimmer said, but the board felt that “good progress” had been made during the last negotiation session.

“We seem to be so close on so many issues,” she said. “So I don’t think the outstanding issues are that large.”

The board will need to talk about what steps it needs to take in case the teachers do go on strike, Zimmer said.

The new school year for the district, which serves about 1,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, started a week ago. Teachers have been working under an expired contract since Aug. 26, 2011, with salaries and benefits in line with last year, Zimmer said.

Negotiations on a new contract began more than 18 months ago, but no agreement has been reached despite assistance from a federal mediator.

In June, the board voted to impose the terms of its “last, best, and final offer” for the contract that would run back from the 2011-12 school year through the 2014-15 school year.

That offer included a salary freeze for last year and a salary increase of 1.125 percent for this school year. However, those figures changed as the negotiations continued and are not necessarily where things currently stand, Zimmer said.

According to its website, the Prairie Grove Teachers’ Association is asking for salary increases to match the district’s revenue, but also allows the district to set aside four months in reserve to maintain a high financial rating.

“Despite the current environment, the district is still receiving an increase in revenue,” the union said. “We are not asking for anything beyond that.”

The union also said it found it “difficult to negotiate with people who give themselves raises but then choose to impose a freeze on the teachers.”

Additional attempts to reach union members were unsuccessful.

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