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Audience member speaks out on strike publicity

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 11:32 a.m. CST

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DIXON – Craig Buchanan did not like the headlines: Dixon teachers decide to strike.

In front of a filled cafeteria at Reagan Middle School for a special school board meeting, made up of mostly members of the Dixon Education Association, Buchanan urged the board and the union Wednesday to make a settlement a priority.

"What do you have more important to do tomorrow than settle this dispute?" the Dixon businessman asked.

The question was met with a standing ovation.

The school board and union will meet for contract negotiations today as the first day of the strike cancels classes.

Superintendent Michael Juenger has asked parents to prepare for classes to be canceled Friday as well.

After taking public comments Wednesday, the board met behind closed doors to discuss its next offer.

One of 10 people who spoke, Buchanan pointed out TV crews in attendance and said a strike isn't the publicity Dixon needs after former Comptroller Rita Crundwell was sentenced to prison for stealing nearly $54 million from city funds.

"If Dixon keeps getting the negative publicity, people aren't going to want to come here," Buchanan said. "It's not going to help property values. It's not going to help teachers.

"Get together, lock the doors and don't leave until it's settled."

At the meeting, Sandi Sodergren-Baar, DEA president, offered to meet with the board Friday, Saturday or Sunday. After today's negotiations, the next talks are not scheduled until Monday.

Juenger said, however, that board will make a determination after today's talks whether to meet again before Monday.

Board President Tom Balser said he worried about a strike from the first day of school and he fears any collateral damage that may come from it.

"I've tried to let the other side know through all of this that they are respected," Balser said. "I want to keep the dialogue as professional as possible."

Balser also indicated the board is just as dedicated to reaching an agreement and said the dynamic nature of Wednesday's discussion is echoed behind closed doors in board talks.

A few parents spoke, especially in support of teachers' proposals for more staff to help with special education needs. Sodergren-Baar said teachers are asking for five more staff members to help with special education.

Christie Pollom, a parent in the district, said the board should look at additional staff as an investment in its future, saying students with special needs deserve the same opportunities.

Mindy Donoho, a paraprofessional in the district and president of Dixon's support staff union, said the paraprofessional union also is working without a contract until the teachers contract is resolved.

Dixon resident Leanne White said sacrifices will need to be made to reach a settlement, citing another business that makes its employees take their spouse's insurance if its available. In its latest offer, the board made that a stipulation to bring down health insurance costs from its previous offer.

Juenger said the board was to determine Wednesday what amount it thinks can be spent on the teachers contract. Teachers proposals still come out to a cost of about $2 million per year to the district, he said.

Teachers are asking for 3.75 percent new money to be added to the salary schedule. Under its last contract, many teachers received built-in pay increases based on experience or education; together those amount to between a 5 and 6 percent pay increase teachers are asking for.

The Dixon School Board countered with a 1 percent pay increase for 2 years and wants to do away with the salary schedule, and wants teachers to agree to add 10 days to their contract and work 40 more minutes per day.

The board also is asking for teachers to pay more in health insurance.

What's next?

The teachers' negotiating team and the School Board will hold more contract talks today and Monday.

Teachers will host an informational question-and-answer session for the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Elks Club, 1279 Franklin Grove Road.

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