Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teachers Picket in Highland on First Day of Strike

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teachers Picket in Highland on First Day of Strike

Article excerpt

HIGHLAND * On day one of the first-ever teacher strike in Highland, junior Kyle Craig woke up early and drove his truck to school anyway.

While some of his classmates slept in, his teachers clutched signs and umbrellas while walking the picket line. Kyle decided to show them his support.

"Teachers ought to have higher pay, 'cause they get everybody where they need to be," said Kyle, whose mother is a teacher but doesn't work for Highland. "I don't really want to miss school it screws everything up. But I get it."

With signs damp and wilting from rain, about two dozen teachers marched Thursday in front of Highland High School and the district's other five schools. School and all extracurricular activities and practices were called off Thursday after teachers and district leaders failed to reach an agreement on salaries and benefits. No one could say when classes would resume for the 3,000 children in the Metro East district.

Down the road from the picket line at Highland High, a church opened its doors to offer child care, a relief for working parents. Other pupils stayed home with older siblings or relatives.

Josh Volz was thankful that he was off work Thursday to watch his 5-year-old son, a kindergartner at Alhambra Primary. Father and son were reading and working on activity books, and also on suggestions a teacher sent home.

If the strike continues, Volz's mother will help watch his son. But he found himself questioning the strike.

"I want to be sympathetic to the teachers. I understand I'm union that you want to get paid what you're worth," he said. But it seems that teachers aren't budging, he said. "How can you expect more money if that money isn't there?"

Drivers honked car horns in support of the picket line. Signs read, "Show you care, be fair," and "We want a fair settlement."

ShiAnne Shively, president of the teachers union, said teachers want an agreement from the district that includes credit for years of experience to maintain the quality of teachers in the classroom. She said Thursday afternoon she had called to request a meeting with district leaders. As of late Thursday, no meeting had been set.

"We've got to get back to the classroom," she said. "We want this over as soon as possible."

The union voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night in favor of a strike, after nearly six months of negotiations. Superintendent Mike Sutton said the district cannot keep spending more than it brings in, and that the reserve funds teachers say could be used will eventually dry up.

Sutton told parents this week in an email that the teachers' last proposal to the district was a 4 percent increase in salary, which would cost the district about $450,000. In response, the School Board offered a one-year agreement to avoid a strike. It included a $500 stipend and no change in health insurance. …

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