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Board would rather lose money than lose fight with teachers
CAIRO, Ill. -- Unless teachers approve a three-year contract, the school district here will not make up days lost to a strike despite teachers returning to work, the school board's lawyer said Tuesday.
Barney Mundorf, the attorney for the Cairo school board, said officials in this impoverished city would rather forgo thousands of dollars in state aid than allow teachers to work past May 29, the originally scheduled last day of school, without approving the board's offer.
The district's 71 teachers returned to work Monday without resolving the salary dispute that prompted them to strike April 25 in one of the poorest districts in the state.
Union leaders said they wanted to ensure the district could make up the 17 days lost to the strike before a June 30 deadline and thus qualify for $374,000 in state funding that they said would otherwise be lost.
The teachers planned to try to work out their differences with the district over the summer, and strike again in the fall if no agreement could be reached.
But Mundorf said the teachers must approve the board's offer, which they previously rejected, or they will not be allowed to make up the days.
"When you don't work, you don't get paid," Mundorf said.
Ron Newell, president of the Cairo Association of Teachers, said the board's "ultimatum" is making an already bitter dispute more so.
"It's just making a bad situation worse," he said. Teachers are not likely to accept the three-year deal, he said.
The school board is offering a 3 percent raise for each of three years, starting retroactively in August 2001, when the last contract expired.
The teachers are demanding a 3 percent raise the first year, a 5.25 percent raise the second and a 2.25 percent raise the third year, Newell said.
District officials believe the schools would lose $102,000 in state aid if the 17 days are not made up, since it saves $16,000 in salaries and expenses for every day Cairo's 900 students aren't in school, Mundorf said.
While that's a lot of money, teachers stand to lose more, Mundorf said.
"Can this district afford to lose $102,000? Absolutely not," he said.
"But by our calculations, the cost will be greater to the teachers in 17 days of lost pay," he said.
Time is short. The board would have to meet again to call for makeup days, and no more meetings are scheduled before May 29, Mundorf said.
Forty-eight hours' notice must be given before board meetings can be held, and none can be called or held on Memorial Day, he said.