Teachers' strike may cost Cairo $460,000

Thursday, May 16, 2002

CAIRO, Ill. -- A teachers' strike entering its fourth week could cost the cash-strapped school district as much as $460,000 and cause the cancellation of summer school, if the days lost aren't soon made up, district officials said Wednesday.

With no new talks scheduled by midweek, the prospect of an end to the walkout anytime soon seemed dim, driving parents like Clarence Dossie to disgust.

"They need to be in school because getting an education is the only way they can leave this place," said Dossie, as he watched his three young children play in his front yard Wednesday.

The district on the state's southern tip, one of the poorest in Illinois, will lose $22,000 of next year's state funding for each day under the legally mandated 176 days that students miss, Superintendent Robert Isom said.

The district's 950 students attended class 155 days before teachers walked out April 25, leaving 21 days that must be made up by June 30 for the district to receive its full funding, he said.

If time runs out before many of those days are made up, the district will have "several payless paydays," Isom said. The hit probably will come during the next school year, when this year's state money will be distributed, he said.

"It will wreak havoc with our budget," he said, which totals $8.7 million.

District officials and teachers are at an impasse in contract talks that broke off last weekend with no agreement and no new talks scheduled.

The district's last three-year proposal included a 5.5 percent pay raise the first year and 2.5 percent raises the next two.

But teachers dispute the district's numbers, and say officials are really offering a pay freeze.

Teachers, who have been working without a contract since August, would accept a one-year agreement, teachers' union president Ron Newell said.

Although the contract would expire again in three months, it would at least enable the district to make up the needed days in May and June, Newell said.

"If they called us tomorrow, we would go back to school and make up the days," Newell said. "We don't want to stop the money coming in," he said.

But a one-year deal is not on the table, Isom said.

If a resolution isn't found soon, the district's five-week summer program for grade-schoolers will be canceled, Isom said. The program, called Summer Bridges, cannot be delayed much past its scheduled June 10 launch because of time needed for staff training, he said.

In the meantime, Dossie is angry the teen-agers he sees strolling along his street have little to do. With businesses closing down in the economically struggling city, school offers kids their only ticket to a better life, he said.

"Education is all they got," he said.

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