News Local/State

Champaign Teachers Union Moves Closer To Strike

Roughly 200 teachers, as well as children and union supporters rallied outside the Champaign Unit 4 administration building on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018.

Roughly 200 teachers, as well as children and union supporters rallied outside the Champaign Unit 4 administration building on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. The members of the Champaign Federation of Teachers called upon the school district to provide the union with a fair contract. Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign Federation of Teachers filed a 10-day intent to strike notice Thursday, according to the union’s president, Jennifer White. The earliest teachers could strike would be the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The move is the latest escalation of tension in contract negotiations between the CFT and the Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education over a new teacher contract.

White said the union and the school district have made some progress, but they’re still at odds on several key issues, including class sizes. The union initially requested caps on Kindergarten through second grade classes, and that request has been scaled down to a cap of 22 students only on Kindergarten classes in the district, she said.

The district, White said, has countered with a cap of 25 students for every Kindergarten class.

“And so our position is still: 25 is too many Kindergarteners,” White said.

In a statement sent out Thursday evening, the board stated that they had offered the union additional Kindergarten and first grade classrooms next school year to address capacity concerns in the near term. The board said they also offered to assign teacher aides “or take a number of other actions if the cap was exceeded,” the statement read.

Other sticking points include the addition of two professional development days to teacher work calendars and the amount of self-directed time allowed teachers during those days, White said. The board stated that they had offered “to establish professional development planning groups so teachers could offer direction for their own professional growth.”

The CFT is also requesting a structure that would allow teachers to visit families in their homes. White said the union has asked for language that would allow teachers to accrue paid leave time for every seven home visits. She said the district “has a much more limited approach” that would only allow teachers to spend seven hours per school year visiting families.

“Given our class sizes, I don’t think seven hours is very impactful. That’s not much visiting and true relationship building you can do if you’re only spending seven hours on it,” White said.

White said the union and the district are still at odds over salary increases for teachers who are “off schedule,” meaning teachers who have worked in the district more than 21 years.

She said the union has requested a three percent raise for those veteran teachers. The board, in their statement, said they offered the CFT a 4.1 percent salary increase for teachers on the salary schedule and a 2.75 percent increase for those off schedule.

“The board also increased its post-retirement incentive for teachers who elected to participate in the program,” the board’s statement read.

While some movement has been made toward an agreement, White said there’s still a lot of negotiating work to be done. She said no one wants to go on strike, but they’re preparing to do so if necessary.

She said families in the district have also been supportive of teacher demands.

“We know that they want to avoid a strike, but we also know we have many families offering us support if it comes down to the wire and we need things like people to come bring us hot cocoa on a cold picket line, or helping us on the picket line,” she said.

In their statement, the board said they’ve “made significant concessions,” while the union has made “very little movement.”

“Although the Board was extremely disappointed in CFT’s response to its proposals and its unwillingness to engage collaboratively toward resolution, the Board looks forward to the next bargaining session on November 20,” the statement concludes.

The union’s last contract expired in June.