Teachers, social workers, librarians and school counselors in Proviso Township High School District 209 are headed for a strike after the Proviso Teachers Union (PTU), an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and D209 administrators failed to reach a contract agreement during the latest round of talks last Saturday. 

The move comes roughly two weeks after 98% of the PTU’s 280 members voted to authorize a strike. Union officials said at the time that D209 Supt. James Henderson was not bargaining in good faith, a claim the union reinforced in a Feb. 12 statement announcing that an official strike date has been set for Feb. 18. 

“By cutting today’s mediation session short once again, Supt. Henderson proved that he is not honest or serious about doing what is right for our students and educators,” PTU President Maggie Riley said in the statement. 

“We’ve offered dates to continue bargaining every day through Feb. 18, including Super Bowl Sunday, to avoid a strike, but Supt. Henderson refuses to meet in advance of our strike date,” she said. 

In a statement released Feb. 12, D209 officials said the “union did not respond to the district’s most recent offer before negotiations concluded today,” adding that the district and union “will continue to discuss other opportunities to meet before Feb. 18, which is the earliest date the teachers could strike.” 

The next two negotiating sessions are scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 9 — both after the Feb. 18 strike date. The sessions have been facilitated by a federal mediator since July 2021. 

Heading into last Saturday’s mediation session, the union seemed optimistic about the contract talks. In a statement posted on Feb. 9 to Proviso Teachers Care, the Facebook page administered by union leaders and where the union has been posting official statements, union officials said that “some progress was made” during a negotiating session that night, “but there is still work to be done.” 

But after the latest session on Saturday evening, the union said the two sides are still some ways apart on compensation and class sizes. 

“PTU members are also asking the administration to balance and reduce class sizes at each high school (East, West, and Math and Science Academy),” according to the union’s Feb. 12 statement. “Smaller class sizes have been proven to increase student learning.” 

Regarding pay, the union, whose members have been working without a contract agreement for nearly eight months, initially sought a 5-year agreement, with 6% salary increases for each of those five years. 

In their most recent offer submitted to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Jan. 27, union negotiators said the union has monitored rising inflation, which was at 7% in December 2021 compared to December 2020, and that union members had gotten a pay raise of 5.25% in the 2014-15 school year “during less inflationary times.” 

By Jan. 31, the union was proposing a 5-year contract that would include a 5.7% pay raise for each year of the contract. The district was proposing a 2-year contract with no pay increase the first year and a 5% increase in the second year. 

By Feb. 12, D209 officials said they “made movement on salary” by increasing their offer from 6% to 6.5% over three years, with a 2% raise in the first year, and 2.25% in the second and third years. 

The district also said that it had “agreed to the union’s demand to remove our proposed requirement for teachers to provide lesson plans to school administrators.” 

According to the 2020-21 Illinois School Report Card, the teacher retention rate in D209 is 82% — below the state average of 87% and below surrounding districts of comparable size, which have retention rates between 89% (Morton) and 97% (Lyons). 

“Teachers are seeking an agreement that ensures their predominantly Black and Brown students receive the same high-quality education as neighboring mostly white districts,” the union said in its Feb. 12 statement. 

“To keep good teachers in our district we must pay them like professionals,” Riley said. “While our administrator salaries are among the highest in the area, teacher salaries don’t measure up with comparable districts. On top of that, the district is proposing eliminating the current teacher retirement benefit.”

In its statement, D209 officials said the district “is committed to ongoing good faith negotiations to avoid a strike by reaching a fair and fiscally responsible multiyear contract agreement that serves the best interests of all stakeholders – students, parents, teachers and the local residents who pay taxes to support our schools.” 

If previous negotiating sessions are any indication, it’s unlikely that the two sides will hammer out an agreement before the Feb. 18 strike date. 

Union members said they have asked to meet with Supt. Henderson on weekends and for negotiations to last more than two hours, but that the superintendent has refused. 

The union said the superintendent and his bargaining team, which includes Henderson and another administrator, have also consistently failed to comply with the bargaining ground rules that both sides agreed to in May 2021. There are currently no board members on the district’s negotiating team. 

The superintendent has not responded directly to the union’s claims and has consistently declined requests for comment throughout the negotiating process. 

“The union stands ready to negotiate at any time,” the union said in its Feb. 12 statement. “Educators had hoped to reach an agreement to avoid disrupting the basketball playoffs next weekend, but it’s clear Supt. Henderson doesn’t share that priority.” 

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