Students could be out of school until next week if Mendota strike situation continues, union says

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MENDOTA, Ill. — The Mendota Education Association (MEA) held a press conference on Thursday to urge community members to call on Mendota School District 289 Board of Education to come back to the table as soon as possible.

The board had said it’s unavailable to meet with the association until this weekend. MEA representatives said they are available to bargain every day until a fair contract is reached.

The Mendota teachers union says each week, it’s teachers make $55 less than the average teacher, and they deserve to be paid what they’re worth.

The MEA has met 15 times with the school board to discuss salary and benefits packages, but leaders haven’t reached an agreement.

“We do not come into this profession for money. We’re not on strike for money. We’re on strike because we want a fair wage,” said Greg Locascio, who teaches 8th-grade language arts at Northbrook Middle School.

“We want a competitive salary package. We are not willing to settle for a diminished salary schedule or benefits package,” said Brandon Scheppers, Mendota Education Association Co-Union Vice President.

Because the school board isn’t meeting with the union until Saturday, students have spent two days away from the classroom.

And while this has been extremely stressful for the entire community, Scheppers says in the end it’ll be worth it.

“This is for the benefit of kids in the long run. We believe we’re gonna get better quality educators and better teachers to stay in the classroom. We’ve had a ton of community support, lots of businesses donating things,” Scheppers said.

“We do this for our kids. It may not seem like that, but we are on strike to get positive, professional, and great teachers here at 289,” said Special Ed. teacher Erin Sester, who works at Lincoln Elementary School.

At the end of the day, everyone just wants the kids back in school.

“It’s a strain on us, it’s a strain on the community. We want to be back in the classrooms. This is not where we want to be. We want kids in school, we want the community at rest, and it’s frustrating they’re not willing to meet until Saturday. But it also shows they haven’t made this a priority,” Scheppers said.

MEA Co-Vice President Brandon Scheppers made the following statement:

We are here today to tell our community that we are ready to bargain. We are ready to bargain all day today, all day tomorrow and all day, every day, until we get the best contract for our students. Heck, we’ll even bargain right this very minute.

But we can’t bargain with ourselves. We can’t bargain when the other side refuses to come to the table until this weekend.

That’s right. The board is refusing to even meet with us until Saturday.

We want to be back in our classrooms as soon as possible. We never wanted to leave. We are willing to get this done.

The board, however, refuses. Refuses to meet us at the table. Refuses to put our students, our schools and our community first.

We are better than this. We are worth more than this.

This morning we are asking the board to do what they were elected to do. To come to the bargaining table and negotiate with our students’ best interests at heart. To negotiate with us like professionals. There is nothing more important to us than getting this settled.

We are working toward a three year contract that will help us plan for the future and provide our community with stability.

We are looking for competitive salaries so we can not only bring in talented new teachers, but retain our devoted, experienced teachers, as well. We’ve hired 82 NEW TEACHERS since 2012, including 12 this year. So in seven years, we hired more new teachers than we currently have on staff. That is an unbelievable amount of turnover. Our students deserve better.

We are simply trying to maintain our health insurance coverage and to preserve our plan time. The time that we use to prepare for individual students’ needs, communicate with parents and collaborate with other teachers.

Mendota teachers are struggling to provide for their families. They’re strapped with upward of $30,000 in student loan debt. They’re paying hundreds out of pocket for classroom supplies. What talented teachers are going to want to come here and struggle — when they can go to Peru, Ottawa and Oglesby and make more right out of the gate? It’s simple math and an easy decision.

The district has the money to meet our requests. They have the money to make us competitive. They have the money to end all of this right now. Our last offers were only $16,000 apart when it comes to salary. That’s not even a quarter of a percent of the district’s entire budget. But still they refuse.

They refuse to invest in our teachers and they refuse to invest in our students.

And now they’re refusing to even meet us at the table to bargain.

If you want this strike to end as soon as possible, call the board. Call them and tell them to get back to the table now. Tell them the teachers are available and ready to bargain every single day until we can get an agreement and get our kids back in school.”

Brandon Scheppers, co-vice president

Wednesday night, the Board of Education developed offers for the union at the school district office until after midnight. These included:

  • A raise of 3% in year one and a 4% raise in year two and three to the base of all teacher salaries
  • A raise in the district paid a portion of the teacher’s TRS contribution (retirement) from 2%, to 3% in year one, 4% in year two, and 5% in year three.
  • An incremental raise in the step and lane movement on the salary schedule of 4.5% ($1,442) in year one, 4.356% ($1,452) in year two and 4.188% ($1,452) in year three

The union agreed to the terms of year one, however they rejected the offer as a single-year agreement, and wished to continue bargaining Thursday, only with a three-year contract, the board said. Board members said they will continue to participate in negotiations with the union.

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