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3 percent solution: Cahokia teachers, board reach tentative deal
By Scott Wuerz
Belleville News Democrat
Cahokia School District 187 administrators and workers finally reached an tentative contract agreement in the early hours of Thursday morning for 3 percent raises for each of three years, a deal that is expected to end the strike that cost Cahokia students nine school days.
In addition to the salary increases, employees will have all of their health care costs covered and half of their dependents' for two years, with the third year to be negotiated, said Cahokia Federation of Teachers President Brent Murphy. The 300 teachers and 200 secretaries and support workers of the 4,266-student district had not yet met to discuss the proposal, which will be endorsed by the union's negotiating team.
School is not in session this morning; a teachers' vote on the deal is expected late morning.
"We're going to have a meeting at the American Legion hall (in Cahokia) at 11 a.m," Murphy said. "And we're going to recommend that the members approve the contract."
Administrators could not be reached in the early morning hours Thursday for comment on the tentative agreement.
The deal was spurred by a meeting between Cahokia School District parents and the school board Wednesday night.
District 187 Superintendent Jana Bechtoldt and other administrators showed a presentation that claimed Cahokia teachers were some of the highest paid in the area and that the district couldn't afford to pay for the three-year deal union members offered Monday. That proposal called for raises of 3.5 percent in each year of the deal.
Parents loudly disputed the school district's claims and demanded that administrators, who had met with union leaders only once since the strike started Sept. 17, go back to the bargaining table immediately.
Parents agreed to end the public forum early, provided that administrators met with the union negotiating team that was waiting outside, and left the Estelle Sauget Academic Center chanting "Four! Four! Four!" in reference to how many school board votes were needed to ratify a contract with teachers.
About 75 of the parents and students who pressured the school board back to the bargaining table remained on the parking lot outside of the District 187 offices when the agreement was reached at about 3 a.m. Many of them were sitting on lawn chairs they brought to help back up a vow to block union members and administrators in the building until they forged a deal that would allow students back into school.
Because a tentative agreement is on the table, Cahokia sports and academic teams will be able to resume practice under their faculty coaches.
The school's football team, which was 4-0 when the strike started but had to forfeit its game last Friday against Carbondale because of the work stoppage, would have had to forfeit its contest this Friday against Centralia had an agreement not been reached.
According to Illinois High School Association rules, schools that have been on strike for 7-14 days must have had at least three days of practice before they are allowed to retake the field. Administrators had been working the team out under the leadership of a pair of district principals and an assistant coach who wasn't a member of the Cahokia Federation of Teachers, allowing the team to be eligible to play if kids were back in school by the day of the Centralia game.
Senior co-captain London Davis said he didn't feel any pressure to win Friday after players lobbied so hard to get back on the field, practicing on their own and standing outside the school board office every day since the strike started.
"Oh, we're going to win," Davis, 17, said. "We just wanted a chance to get back on the field and prove what we can do."
The contentious strike, was the first in the Cahokia School District in 32 years. That work stoppage lasted 18 school days.
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