Champaign Teachers Show Support During Contract Talks
By Sean Powers
The Champaign School Board and the Champaign Federation of Teachers union continued meeting Monday evening inside the Mellon Administrative Building in Champaign to discuss a new contract.
If talks break down, the CFT could issue a 10-day strike notice. The two sides remain at odds over a host of issues, including salaries and the amount of time teachers are asked to take on non-teaching duties.
The CFT and the school board were supposed to meet Monday with a federal mediator, but that did not happen because of the partial government shutdown.
As contract talks continued, a large group of teachers was parked outside the Mellon building to show their support. Some of them dressed up in Halloween costumes, and handed out candy to children. Heidi Bjerke, an instructional technologist who has been with the district for six years, helped organize the “camp out.”
“We don’t want to go on strike, but we want a fair contract,” Bjerke said. “I’ve been in the district for several years, and I was here when we took a zero increase, and I think it’s time we get a little bit caught back up.”
The union has said under the school district’s proposal, if step increases are used to cover cost-of-living increases, then a teacher will not ever make much more than the starting salary. The CFT has maintained that the salary schedule should not make adjustments for inflation, but rather longevity.
Karen Ranney teaches music at Kenwood Elementary School, and has been working with the district for 11 years. She showed up outside the Mellon building with a large sign that stated ‘Proud to be a teacher.’
“We’ve had a lot of teachers, the more experienced teachers, they will not get any raise if they only get a step (raise),” Ranney said. “That is not considered a raise to a bunch of us because of the way the schedule is set up. So, it’s critical that we negotiate something that’s fair for all the teachers.”
“The board is really trying to push the idea that a step raise is a cost-of-living raise when they’re two separate things,” added Christine Adrian, an eighth grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School. “I think that’s one of the main sticking points is not understanding that my experience is a value.”
The school district and the union have been negotiating on a new contract since last May, an indication that teachers’ concerns have not been heard, according to Tracey Jones, a 28-year math teacher at Franklin Middle School.
“Back in the day – 20 odd years ago – we had our contract settled before school started, and we’re in the middle of October with no contract,” Jones said.
If the school district and the union fail to reach an agreement, the earliest teachers could go on strike is Friday Oct. 18.
“The last thing I want is a strike,” said Emily Kautzer, a French teacher at Franklin Middle School and Central High School.
“I love showing up to work, and I love my students," Kautzer added. "But I feel like if I don’t stand up for the contract I want now, then it will mean that in the future this district won’t be as well off without teachers who come here because they know they’re appreciated and their salary reflects that.”