FOREST PARK, Ill. — Classes are canceled through Thursday for thousands of students in Proviso High School District 209.
The teachers’ strike is still underway as the district announced they had not reached an agreement.
Students have been out of class for eight consecutive days as teachers rallied and picketed ahead of A Tuesday night school board meeting. The meeting looked to address the grievances of the nearly 300 teachers who are on strike.
“The bottom is we need resources,” special education teacher Satyam Contractor said. “Combine that with us being the lowest-paid teachers in Cook County, that might have a significant impact on that retention rate.”
The teachers said they want a 13% pay increase over three years, but the school district was only offering 9%. In District 209, data shows 20% of teachers leave each year. Educators add that teaching spots in nearly every subject remain unfilled because starting pay is low.
“You look at a district that’s right next to us like Morton and nobody would say that’s an affluent district but their starting salaries are still $9,000 more than ours,” Proviso East English teacher Ashley Avila said.
In a statement Monday night, the district wrote, “Our differences have become increasingly difficult to settle. We continue to look for creative ways to bridge the more than $1 million gap between our salary proposals.”
The district wanted kids back in class for a one-week cooling-off period but the union rejected, saying they did not want the stalemate to drag out any longer.
“We stand ready to bargain at any time,” Union president Maggie Riley said.
The district says it’s committed to reaching an agreement and fairly compensating its teachers, but it must be fiscally responsible. The teachers union says that claim is disingenuous because the district has a million-dollar surplus in the bank and administrator salaries continue to rise.
“We are the ones fighting for students. We’re fighting for smaller class sizes, for items that will retain teachers,” Avila said.
Unfortunately, caught in the middle of the back and forth are students.
“I wish I could go back tomorrow,” one student rally-goer said.
Teachers say the strike is also about the quality of education for district students.
“Our students are minorities, so we have a large Hispanic population, African American, fighting to get the education they deserve because we do know they are behind and they have work to do.”
The district has three high schools in Maywood, Hillside and Forest Park.