Teacher Strike Over Benefits Closes Illinois School

Thousands of students were told to stay at home at the end of last week as teachers at Zion-Benton Township High School in Illinois went on strike, writes the Associated Press.

The strike began early Thursday morning after a mediation session broke off between the district and the Zion-Benton Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 300 employees.

It is thought that the two sides are stuck on pay and health insurance. School officials want to restructure the union salary schedule and has proposed that union members pick up the costs of any health insurance increases, reports the AP.

School officials believe that these measures are necessary because of the troubling financial situation that the district finds itself in. The district is currently operating under a state-ordered deficit-reduction plan.

Critics of these proposals believe this, however, will mean it would take teachers longer to get to the top of their pay scales.

"We think it's unfortunate," school district attorney Anthony Ficarelli said of the strike.

"We think it's unnecessary at this point."

The strike carried on into Friday and by Friday evening no agreement had been made, writes Amy Alderman at the Chicago Tribune.

"I was real optimistic on Wednesday night, but then I got a call in the morning that the negotiations still weren't over," said Andrew Gomez, strike captain and Zion-Benton history teacher.

Anthony Ficarelli, attorney for the school district believes it is "too premature" to say if there would be classes Monday.

"We're still mediating. The talks could go into the weekend," Ficarelli said.

Corinne McGue, president of the Zion Council of the Lake County Federation of Teachers, said there were no signs that these discussion will wrap up anytime soon.

"Let's put it this way, I'm keeping my fingers crossed," said McGue.

Teachers and support staff have been working without a contract since July.

"Everyone is working very hard and diligently to find resolutions of the issues and to make an agreement. But we have a long way to go yet," said Ficarelli.

"We're trying to come to grips with the salary schedule. We're looking for ways to fairly compensate the teachers, but look out for the taxpayer."

Officials are concerned about the rising costs of health care, he said.

"We're trying to strike that balance," Ficarelli said.

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