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District 156 teachers OK strike

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 3:43 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 6:22 p.m. CDT

McHENRY – District 156 teachers voted unanimously to strike if an agreement on a contract isn't reached soon.

The union will present the District 156 school board with a new proposal before its negotiating team makes a final decision on whether to strike, said spokesman Brian Weidner, who is also the fine arts coordinator at McHenry East High School.

The school board is set to meet Tuesday evening.

"Negotiations are ongoing and can be very delicate at this point," Superintendent Mike Roberts said.

He declined to comment further.

Contract negotiations have dragged on since June as the two sides debate numbers and contract language, disagreeing on "philosophical issues" as well as the raw numbers, Weidner said.

Teachers have been working without a contract since August.

This round of negotiations has been more contentious than previous rounds, Greg Eiserman, the union's co-president, has said, and the talks have been marred by misunderstandings and a lack of communication by both sides on some decisions.

Underlying the negotiations is disagreement over the financial health of the district.

During the last contract negotiations, the union agreed to a pay freeze for a year and a half, increased insurance contributions and cuts to coaching and club sponsor stipends to help offset a deficit that was expected to reach $4 million.

Both sides agree that the district's finances are no longer in such dire straits, but they disagree on how healthy the district is.

The last offers made by each side before an impasse was declared in November showed that the district and the union disagreed on salary increases, how much teachers pay for family health insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, summer school pay, stipends for teachers that travel between campuses and early retirement incentives.

Many of the changes proposed by the board seek to tie increases to the rate of inflation and shift some health insurance costs onto employees.

"We agreed to reduced pay last contract to help the district with the understanding that a fair contract would result the next time around," Eiserman said in a release. "What is being offered is not fair compensation for the reduced wages we agreed to last time.”

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