Lake Forest teachers strike

Teachers set up picket lines in front of Lake Forest High School this morning. Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune (Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune / September 12, 2012)

For the first time in the district’s history, teachers in Lake Forest High School District 115 went on strike today after failing to reach an agreement over salaries during negotiations that ended just before midnight.

The walkout affects about 1,700 students and about 150 teachers.

Teachers set up a picket line in front of Lake Forest High School this morning, carrying yellow signs that read, "Lake Forest Teachers for a Fair Contract."

Some parents appeared displeased by the picketers, but a few students turned out in support.

"You make three times more than the average citizen in Chicagoland," a woman yelled. "What is the lesson for all the students today?"

A man joined the picket line -- but carried a sign telling the teachers to get back to work.

Mollie Blahunka, 17, a senior from Lake Bluff, handed out homemade cookies to teachers and hugged them.

"You guys support me every day so I'm here to support you," said Blahunka, who is the director of the junior-senior play "Wild Dust" and was planning to lead rehearsal today despite the strike.

An important field hockey game today against New Trier has been canceled.

“We were recently informed that the IHSA will strictly enforce the rules regarding interscholastic contests,” said school board President Sharon Golan. “This ruling prohibits us from participating in competition if the teachers go on strike. We are very disappointed with this decision as we believe it is in the best interest of our students to continue scheduled activities.”

“Many of our teams will be practicing today,” she added. “Our athletic trainers will be present.”

Some previously scheduled activities, including visits from college representatives, will continue at the high school. Meanwhile, the district says the school will be open to students between 7:50 a.m. and 3:10 p.m. and lunch will be served.

The Lake Forest school board released information on its offer to teachers Tuesday night, with about 75 people packing the board room.

Michael Hernandez, an attorney negotiating for the district, presented information on salary scales and benefits on a big screen. He described the union as being unreasonable during a time when the community has been “affected by foreclosures by people who lost their jobs.”

He criticized the union’s calculations on the district’s future reserves, saying, “We see these projections and don’t know where they came from.”

The board has offered pay increases of 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2013, 3.4 percent in 2014 and 3.4 percent in 2015, according to the district. It also has asked teachers to start paying for a percentage of their insurance coverage.

The union maintains that, since teachers’ pay was frozen last year in a one-year contract, the raises should be bumped up to the level they would have been if not for the freeze. The union proposed raises equal to 5.6 percent in 2013, 6.5 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in 2015, according to district figures.

Residents who spoke at the Tuesday meeting mostly sided with the board. Some said the teachers should take into account their work environment within an affluent community that does not scrimp on classroom resources.

“This is all going to fall back on the taxpayers in this town,” said Brad Kunde of Lake Forest. “I, for one, feel I pay enough.”