Pubdate: Sat, 06 Aug 2011
Source: Pekin Daily Times, The (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Pekin Daily Times
Author: Ken Harris


GLASFORD - After agreeing to an 11th hour one-year deal in August 2010
that allowed the school year to start on time, a teachers' strike
again threatens the school year in Glasford as negotiations between
the Illini Bluffs District 327 School Board and the teachers union
have reached an impasse over drug testing.

The Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers filed their notice of intent
to strike for the second year in a row, to protect the teachers' right
to strike rather than begin the school year without a contract.
Teachers are scheduled to report Tuesday, Aug. 16, while the first day
for students is set to be the next day.

Both sides have tentatively agreed to a three-year contract that
includes basically a 2 percent wage increase for 2011-12, a 1 percent
increase for 2012-13 and a 2 percent increase for 2013-14. However,
the board has taken a hard line on the issue of implementing a random
drug testing program for all staff, while the teachers union has said
it supports the idea of testing teachers only if they give cause to
believe they are under the influence.

The school board's negotiating attorney, Karl Meurlot, said the issue
is important to the board so it can set an example while he said the
country is suffering from a severe drug problem.

"The board believes two things: It's important for the teachers and
board members and administrators to be role models. Second, there is
the issue of safety . . . We want to make sure all our teachers are
clear-headed," Meurlot said. "The board has no reason to believe that
there is any teacher who is employed in the district who is using
drugs or alcohol to excess. We're trying to put in place a program
that would indicate to students and the community that we're promoting
a drug-free society."

The two sides have not met for formal negotiations since things blew
up July 20.

Keith Brown, the lead negotiator for the IBFT, said the union cannot
get the board to sit down and talk and has not been able to since the
issue came up at the July 20 meeting.

He said the school board left without answering any questions about
the drug testing proposal and he said the move is probably an attempt
to enforce its will on the teachers as a retaliation for the 2010
negotiations, when both sides went to bat over wages and settled on a
one-year contract that included a 3.5 percent wage increase for
teachers that was agreed to the day before teachers were to report to

"So far their stance has been they declared an impasse and they won't
even sit down and talk about it," Brown said. "This is not just about
drug testing, it's more of a power play."

Brown said the teachers believe the random testing program would waste
money, as the board readily admits it does not believe any of the
staff would fail a drug test. He said the teachers made a lot of
financial concessions to save the district money and the teachers do
not understand how the district would want to "waste" money it could
be using in the classrooms or to bring back teachers.

The district could implement a "cause testing" program that would not
cost any taxpayer money and would make the statement to the community
the board wants to make.

According to Brown, the school board originally said the program would
cost $6,000 annually but has since given annual cost estimates ranging
from $1,000 to $3,000, which he said is "not a significant amount in
terms of the whole budget."

Meurlot said the program cost $1,000 for the 2010-11 school year to
test the non-certified staff, so the program would cost $2,000 more to
add the teachers, school board and administration to the list.

The representatives for both sides said they believe they have the
support of the community. Brown said teachers went out among the
community recently and received overwhelming support for at least an
opportunity to talk the issue over with the school board.

Meurlot said the school board believes the community supports the
district taking a stand on the issue and the school board is willing
to do whatever it takes.

"The board is prepared to take a strike on this issue and apparently
the teachers are willing to go on strike for this issue. I cannot come
up with any kind of compromise. It's not like dollars where you're
here and we're here and we meet in between, that's what makes this
particularly difficult."

The final proposals made by each side can be seen in their entirety on
the Illini Bluffs website at .
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