Mt. Olive School Board holds meeting to try to end strike

MOUNT OLIVE, IL (KTVI)– A specially called meeting with a federal mediator stretched late into the night in Mt. Olive, IL, in an effort to end the teachers’ strike there after 1 day.  Students and parents held vigil in elementary school hallways.

There were students in pajamas, watching TV, and playing board games.

Mt. Olive is in Macoupin County, near Litchfield, about 50 miles NE St. Louis.

It’s the same small town, same small school district, that pulled together after a tornado May 20.

The teachers’ went on strike Monday, less than 2 weeks before final exams and the holiday break.

Monday night’s boys’ high school varsity basketball game was the first casualty.  It was postponed because of the strike.

Tuesday’s Junior High science fair was in jeopardy, too.

More than 100 parents and students cheered the teachers as they broke from the public portion of the meeting to go into closed door negotiations with school board.

Students made signs making clear that they stood with the teachers.

One group was taking orders for “We Love Our Teachers” t-shirts.

They had about 100 orders, so far.

“It’s only fair for them to get what they’ve come to school to work for and gotten an education for, to get paid for it,” said high school senior, Chloe Gretak, her eyes filling with tears.

Fellow senior, Kristi Nowell, said she’d like to get into the negotiating room to deliver a message.

“I don’t want them to say no.  I want them to say yes, no matter how long it takes,” she said.

It had become an emotional impasse in a town ravaged by a tornado a little more than 6 months ago.

School properties suffered more than a $500,000 in damages.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy said the damages had no impact on negotiations.

The key issues are teachers’ salaries and retirement benefits.  The school board has offered modest 2%  increases in both.

Teachers say the board has promised larger increases when teachers agreed to forego raises in the last contract.

“We feel that when you make a promise you need to keep it. That’s what we need to teach the kids,” kindergarten teacher and teachers’ union president, Marcia Schulte told a crowd of parents, who erupted in applause.

Murphy said shrinking enrollment and shrinking state aid meant the budget had to shrink, too.

“It’s just a very difficult financial climate in the state of Illinois and in the United States, but really in the state of Illinois.  It’s just put us in a bad spot,” Murphy said.

“Last year the administration and support staff received a 6% raise.  This year the support staff received 2%.  The teachers haven’t received anything since 2009,” Schulte said.

There are about 500 students in the Mt. Olive district, which ranked among the top in the state in recent test scores.

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