MURPHYSBORO — Things started to get back to normal in Murphysboro Thursday as teachers returned to class after about a week on the picket lines.
The Murphysboro Education Association went on strike on Oct. 3, after months of contract negotiations stalled on salary increases. It was the first in the city since 1979. The MEA represents 152 teachers, counselors, nurses and social workers in Murphysboro District 186.
The language was terse between the two sides before and during the strike. The district told reporters that the offers made to the union were as far as they could go. Superintendent Chris Grode said the district was in deficit spending with the deal as it was, and the district didn’t want to go further in the red.
The union saw things differently. News releases and negotiating documents shared with The Southern pointed to a multimillion-dollar surplus in the district’s coffers. They said the district had more than enough to cover the increases asked for, increases the union said it was promised when their salaries were frozen while the state was in a financial crisis.
However, late Wednesday night, the tensions appeared to have broken as both sides ratified a temporary agreement. Lisa Shields, a spokesperson for the MEA, said Thursday that the union voted on it already, leaving the board’s vote Tuesday the only thing left to pass the deal.
Both sides have said they would not discuss details of the deal until it was voted on and passed by both sides. Grode on Thursday wouldn’t address any questions, saying he would answer questions after the vote Tuesday.
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Len Novara, Murphysboro High School athletic director, said Thursday that sports would resume with the tentative deal. However, games missed by teams because of the strike were designated a forfeit against the school, which affected the records of several teams that are post-season hopefuls.
Shields, a third-grade teacher in the district, said Thursday was a welcome change, despite being exhausted.
“Coming in, being with very little sleep this morning, I can’t express how happy I am with being here,” she said.
Addressing the tenor of negotiations, both sides having sharp words for the other for weeks, Shields said it’s time to get back to work.
“I think the best thing for all of us is we just continue on,” Shields said.
She mentioned a post she made to social media about her feelings regarding the split in the community over the strike.
“I am still going to love your children,” she said, no matter what side of the issue parents were on.