UPDATED 09/12/12 – 5:34 p.m.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Chicago teachers now have company on the picket line, after talks broke down between teachers and school officials in north suburban Lake Forest.
The 152 teachers from Lake Forest High School hit the picket lines at 7:30 a.m. It’s the first ever strike for the school
A total of 1,700 students were out of class at the two school campuses, although the school building will be open from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. with administrators and other non-union members supervising the students.
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CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli talked to a parent who went face-to-face with the striking teachers in Lake Forest.
“The lesson today is greed,” one woman said as she confronted picketing teachers.
The teachers disagree, saying their walkout shows students how important it is to stand up for what you believe in.
But the woman berating the teachers while filming the picket line on her camera was having none of it.
“You’re being paid more than the average income in Chicagoland. Maybe you need to go to Jersey or something,” she said.
About 80 Lake Forest teachers earn more than $100,000 a year, in a town with a median household income that’s about twice that. But Chuck Gress, union spokesperson for the Lake Forest Education Association, said new new hires start at $50,000, and have much less opportunity for big pay raises.
He said a two-tiered payment system was a major sticking point for the union.
“A two-tiered system would basically tell new teachers coming into our school that they would be paid at a much slower rate,” Gress said.
Gress, a math teacher, will retire soon, but said he couldn’t stand by and idly watch second-tier hires be treated like second-class teachers.
“We view that as a huge, huge disadvantage in attracting and keeping the best teachers here at the high school,” he said.
Lake Forest High School Board of Education President Sharon Golan said pay rates are competitive with other high-performing schools, and she said the plan is to open schools on Monday, even if the teachers are still on strike.
“We have a contingency plan … a strike plan that we’ve put into effect,” Golan said.
Sophomore Patrick Casey said, if there are replacement teachers in his classroom, it won’t be the same, because his current teachers are irreplaceable in his view.
“My community, it’s like a family to me. All the teachers are like my moms, and dads, and my uncles, and aunts,” he said.
The two sides have been unable to agree on where or when to meet, and have been working through a federal mediator.
Gress said the school district had failed to return a call from the union.
“Last night, we made what we felt was, again, a reasonable proposal on salary, and the board did not respond to it, and we waited around for an hour and expected a call back from the board, and they decided not to respond. At that point, we called it a night,” Gress said in an interview on the CBS 2 Morning News on Wednesday.
He said teachers took a pay freeze last year – which meant no pay hikes of any kind, whether raises or cost-of-living increases. But the district did not consider that in hammering out a deal for the teachers this year, Gress said.
“Unfortunately, when we returned to the bargaining table this year, this time, the school board – instead of understanding and appreciating the fact that we made a collaborative effort last year to help restore the financial stability of the school, they had a very short memory, and their initial offer was regressive,” Gress said.
Until there’s a breakthrough in talks with the district, teachers said they’ll continue to picket outside the school.