School Will End, But Teachers’ Strike May Go On
HOMER, Ill. (AP) _ Classes in this small east-central Illinois community will end Wednesday but the longest school strike in state history, now in its eighth month, is likely to continue.
″We knew it might take more than a week or two, but we certainly didn’t expect it to last all year,″ said Colleen Brodie, president of the local teachers’ union. ″We still meet, but we’re not getting anywhere.″
The 25 strikers walked off the job Oct. 17, but were replaced by substitutes in two weeks, and most of the 360 students crossed picket lines and returned to classes.
Six tenured teachers were fired in late May and early June. The future of 10 others, asked by the school board whether they plan to return next semester, remains in doubt.
″By next fall, they should be rid of all the teachers,″ said Brodie, who maintains the dismissals are illegal.
School board negotiator Karl Meurlot disagrees. The strikers wanted to come back in April as a group and without a no-strike pledge. He said strikers were offered the few positions not filled by substitutes with semester-long contracts. Six turned down the offer and were dismissed.
Bob Gilhaus, who taught drivers’ education and science and coached for 23 years, was among those fired.
″You really feel like you’ve wasted a long part of your life when you run into something like this,″ said Gilhaus, 50, who has lived here for two decades. ″But, I didn’t see any alternative.″
If his dismissal is upheld, Gilhaus said he probably would look for another teaching job in the area.
″I don’t expect to let a few individuals cause me to leave my home,″ he said.
Meurlot said the remaining issues are class size and salary. However, Brodie said the real issue is teachers’ rights and the conduct of the school board. She maintains that its goal is to break the union - a charge board officials deny.
Both sides have lodged unfair labor practices charges, which are unresolved. In addition, the teachers will exercise their right to appeal their dismissals to an independent hearing officer.
″My perception now is that everybody is just waiting for the legal issues to be resolved,″ Meurlot said. ″We will be in court for at least another year.″
Harold Seamon, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said the lengthy Homer strike ″is the exception rather than the rule.″ However, he said teachers, school officials and parents should seek an alternative to the state collective bargaining law.
″An employee can strike but the school board does not have the right to close down the schools,″ said Seamon. ″I don’t have the answer but there ought to be a better way.″
What is not resolved at the bargaining table in Homer might be settled in the school board election this November, when five of the seven seats will be at stake.
″We’re hoping that election will make some big changes in the school system,″ said Brodie. ″It’s been a bad year for everyone.″