ECHO pickets school boards over contract dispute

2013-02-21T12:01:00Z 2013-02-21T22:14:41Z ECHO pickets school boards over contract disputeDavid P. Funk Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 21, 2013 12:01 pm  • 

LANSING | Special education teachers are picketing outside local school board meetings after a stall in contract negotiations with the Illinois Education Association.

Exceptional Children Have Opportunities has been operating without a contract since its five-year agreement expired on June 30. Negotiations began March 7 and both parties have met with a federal mediator five times since November, but an impasse was declared Feb. 6 and ECHO filed a statement of intent to strike, according to the contract proposals on ECHO's web site.

ECHO Executive Director Debra Hooks said in a letter to parents dated Feb. 15 the notice of intent does not necessarily mean teachers will strike. Both sides filed final offers Feb. 13.

An agreement was reached on a 2 percent salary increase but health insurance and retirement issues remain. Both final proposals can be found on the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board web site at www2.illinois.gov/elrb/.

The IEA says that changes made to the health insurance plan last summer  were done without its contractual input and employees were provided with incorrect information, according to the IEA's final proposal posted online.

"The education of your child is of paramount importance but if a strike occurs, it will not be possible to continue ECHO programs. Parents/guardians should begin to consider available options for their ECHO students if teachers go on strike," Hooks said in her letter to parents. "If a strike occurs, please plan to keep your child home until you are notified by ECHO administration that your ECHO program has reopened. We regret the potential inconvenience a strike may cause you and the disruption to your child's schooling."

ECHO members demonstrated outside the Lansing Elementary District 158 board meeting Wednesday night with signs reading "We want a fair settlement." About 75 students within the district are part of the ECHO program, which serves about 1,200 students in total, according to D.158 officials.

"The employees of ECHO are some of the best we have," D.158 Superintendent Cecilia Heiberger said Wednesday night.

The group said it planned to picket meetings at Burnham Elementary District 154.5 and Calumet City Elementary District 155, among others, tonight. ECHO's 250 employees work in 17 school districts in the south suburbs.

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