Striking East St. Louis teachers, school board approve deal
East St. Louis, Ill. — A teachers’ strike that has kept students out of the classrooms of a southwestern Illinois school district for a month ended Friday when the opposing sides accepted a proposed contract.
The deal ends a strike in East St. Louis that began Oct. 1, leaving more than 6,000 students out of school in a poor black community of about 27,000 residents across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
Dave Comerford of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said “much more than a simple majority” voted Friday for the contract, though he didn’t give exact figures. About 400 teachers have been on strike.
“The unanimous sentiment is the teachers are looking forward to getting back to their classrooms and their students,” Comerford said.
The East St. Louis School Board and the district’s Financial Oversight Panel signed off on the deal after teachers accepted the contract offer.
Under the contract, teachers will get an average pay increase of about $12,800 over four years. However, Superintendent Art Culver said a change in the schedule of step increases for teacher salaries will save the district about $40 million over 20 years.
“I’m very satisfied,” Culver said. “No. 1, our kids are back in the classroom.”
District spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins says the two sides reached the tentative agreement early Friday after a 13-hour negotiating session. Officials say classes will resume Monday.
The district, which has been under state control since 2011 because of its poor performance, has said it needs to save $10 million over the next 10 years. Under the deal teachers rejected before they went on strike, teachers would have received a one-time payment of $2,000 and modest raises, but the amount of time it would take to reach top salary scale would have nearly doubled, to 21 years.
During the contract standoff, some students in this impoverished city have been getting food and some academic instruction at about a dozen community centers spread across town.
The East St. Louis High Flyers’ football team — a seven-time state champion and one of the city’s few sources of community pride — had to forfeit its final four games because of the strike, ending its 15-year streak of state playoff appearances.
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