GALESBURG - Thursday was supposed to be the first day of school in Galesburg, but instead, it is day two of a teacher's strike with no immediate end in sight.
"This is our job right now, getting a contract," teacher and Galesburg Education Association spokeswoman Tami Qualls said.
The teachers want a contract addressing issues such as safety in schools, retirement benefits and just-cause terminations.
"It's not about money. We want to be in there teaching, but we want a fair contract because if we don't have a fair contract, it will not attract good educators to come here to our district," Qualls said.
While the union claims money is not the issue, the administration maintains that pay is the main complaint, especially considering the fact that the latest contract with a five-percent pay increase over the next three years was rejected.
"The union made the decision to go out on strike with a work stoppage, and I'm very disappointed about that, but I understand. If we had more money, we would give it. I really believe that our teachers work hard," Superintendent Bart Arthur said.
Both the administration and union want to talk this out, but the administration will only meet if a mediator is present.
"The union would like to try to solve the problem just with our negotiating team, but the issue is the federal mediator is already hired and being assigned to us, and so we need to continue meeting with the mediator," Arthur said.
But Qualls disagrees. "We don't need a mediator. We can negotiate without a mediator,” she said. “The mediator is not available until next Tuesday. We are ready to sit at the table and negotiate."
Both sides say they want this resolved as quickly as possible, but there is no set day for negotiations with a mediator.
And it was not only classes that were cancelled due to the strike but also extra-curricular activities. The football coach proposed a waiver to the board to allow for the team to practice, but the board denied it.
“Our position is we’ve locked out all employees because they chose the work stoppage, so if we let coaches come back in and have practices, we have to let any other workers that are out there that believe that the strike isn’t right,” Arthur said.
Then the school district would have to come up with salaries for the staff who were coming in when no students are in seats.