Striking Cairo teachers announce end of stalemate

Sunday, May 19, 2002

CAIRO, Ill. -- Teachers on strike for nearly a month voted Saturday to report back to work on Monday, despite the fact that they don't have a contract with the school district.

They said they are calling an end to their strike for the sake of students and to save the school district money, but warned that if a contract isn't in place by the end of summer, they will likely go on strike again.

"If no contract is in place by the start of school, we would probably not go back to work," said Cairo Association of Teachers president Ron Newell. "We hope it doesn't come to that, we don't want to do that, but it would be an option."

The school district warned last week that the strike it could cost the cash-strapped district $460,000 -- $22,000 a day -- of next year's funding for not meeting state attendance requirements.

School superintendent Robert Isom said he was elated that the teachers were reporting back to work Monday.

"Of course I'm happy," Isom said. "I certainly wish it had been with a contract resolution, but it hasn't worked out that way."

Isom said he realized another strike was likely if a new contract is not reached.

"We just hope it doesn't come to that," he said.

Isom said the strike started April 25 and 17 days of school were missed. The school's budget is $8.7 million. He said it has not been determined whether the days would be made up or not, but he expected to know by the end of the week.

Teachers had been working without a contact since August. 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 Newell disputed the district's numbers, and said officials are really offering a pay freeze.

Newell said a show-of-hands vote was overwhelmingly in favor of going back to work, but that there were four or five of the 71 teachers who wanted to continue striking.

But Newell said that the majority of the teachers wanted to go back to work, because they feel the students shouldn't be punished for a work dispute.

"They have been caught in the middle of an adult conflict," he said. "We need to salvage the school year for them."

Newell said that they also wanted to help the district not lose the money and that the days missed could be made up at the end of the regular school year. The teachers realized the district could really be hurt, and Newell said that is not their intent.

"Any school district would have trouble absorbing the loss, and it would especially hurt our district," he said. "The school district was ready to do some dangerous things that would do some lasting harm. We thought somebody had to make a rational decision."

Newell said he doesn't believe going back to work weakens the teachers' bargaining position.

"What we're hoping is that it gives them more time," Newell said. "Now we have 2 1/2 months to make our case."

335-6611, extension 137

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