(CBS) – There was a new face at the table in the Waukegan District 60 teachers strike, and the school board’s chief negotiator says state education chief Gery Chico’s presence was helping.
“I think it’s brought some parties to some ideas,” Tony Ficarelli said.
Union spokesman Kenzo Shibata said there was a renewed determination to start “rolling up our sleeves” and negotiate.
“We welcome any help that can get a deal done,” Shibata said.
Ficarelli said both sides appeared committed to bargaining well into the evening.
Gov. Pat Quinn dispatched Chico, chairman of the state board of education, on Wednesday morning. Chico arrived in Gurnee at 2:15 p.m.
Teachers on the picket line outside of District 60 headquarters Wednesday afternoon were pleased to hear Chico was entering the talks, even though it was unclear what role he would play. A federal mediator was already present.
“We are so happy he’s joining,” said one teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. “We need somebody higher up, somebody who’s going to listen to both sides, find some common-sense ground in the middle and get us back in the classroom.”
Progress reported Tuesday appeared at first to be derailed because of the boisterous pro-union crowd at Tuesday night’s local Board of Education meeting. On Wednesday, board member Victoria Torres issued an apology for telling union sympathizers at the meeting to “shut up.”
“I felt attacked and lost my temper,” Torres wrote. “As a leader, I realize I set a poor example for the students of Waukegan Public Schools and for the community.”
School board president Anita Hanna said the panel “does not condone disrespectful behavior by any persons, including other board members, and we hope the progression of events that transpired last night will never happen again.”
Teachers on the picket line said they would withhold judgment on the sincerity of Torres’ apology. One teacher said it was clear that Torres is “the wrong person” to be on the board.
The strike began Oct. 2. Issues still on the table are pay, who should shoulder the cost of health care benefits — and in what amount — and length of contract.
Negotiations continued late into Wednesday night. Classes were canceled for Thursday.