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Tense Champaign teacher contract negotiations revive parent’s memories of Homer strike

People holding signs walk behind a man with a bullhorn.
Unit 4 teachers rally outside school district offices on Jan. 24, 2022.

CHAMPAIGN — Two weeks after Champaign teachers voted to allow a potential strike, one parent is experiencing déjà vu.

Amy Dunn was in sixth grade in 1986 when negotiations broke down between Homer teachers and their school board. Teachers went on a strike that lasted eight months – possibly the longest teachers’ strike in U.S. history.

Now Dunn is a parent to a South Side Elementary fifth grader. She said in an interview that the tone of the Unit 4 board statement about the teacher vote worries her.

“I had this chilling moment of – this is just like the teacher’s strike I experienced. Kind of how it started was an arrogance and drawing a line in the sand. That’s really what has upset me,” Dunn said.

Unit 4 announced after the teacher vote that the board was “disheartened” and that its contract proposal focuses on underserved students.

“The Board awaits CFT’s plan for moving forward in a manner that ensures commitments made to our students, parents, and community are more than empty promises,” the statement read.

Since then, the district has repeated that the board will continue to bargain with the teacher’s union “in good faith.”

Dunn said she never learned algebra because of the Homer strike. Some classmates moved to other districts. Like others from Homer, she attributed the town’s economic decline to the strike.

Dunn vowed to do whatever she can to prevent a strike. She planned to support teachers in board meetings and in emails to board members.

The vote does not necessarily mean a strike will happen — but allows union leaders to go through the proper legal steps to call for one.

Extended day under debate

A woman holds a sign that reads "Parents stand with U4 Teachers." Next to her, other parents and teachers march with signs.
Parent Alyssa Taylor at a Jan. 24 teacher rally: “Our teachers need our support more than ever, with how hard the pandemic has made these last two years.” Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

The key question dividing Champaign Unit 4 teachers and board members — should the district extend the elementary school day by 50 minutes?

Unit 4 maintains that parents have asked for a longer day after seeing school times in neighboring districts.

The Champaign Federation of Teachers hosted a virtual forum on Tuesday to hear from parents.

Most of those who spoke at the meeting opposed the longer day and said that their kids are already exhausted.

Amy Dunn was one of the few to say she is interested in the idea.

“[I would be interested] if my kid could do something more fun, like have an extra opportunity to do art or music or maybe more library time,” Dunn said afterwards.

Despite this interest, Dunn wanted teachers to be compensated for that extra time and wants proof that the time will lessen achievement gaps as the board says it will.

Unit 4 has answered some frequent parent questions on the district website. The board wants to add time throughout the day to class periods, including lunch and recess.

The district is offering teachers a 4.25 percent raise for this year and the next two years, according to the document. The district also assures parents that schools would not start earlier than 7:45 a.m.

Unit 4 spokesperson Stacey Moore said the board would not comment on the negotiations beyond these documents.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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