Having lived in Geneva for 21 long years, I’ve been more that a bit baffled by the current animosity between the D304 teacher’s union and the School Board. It wasn’t that long ago that the board basically rubber stamped anything the teachers asked for, and suddenly we’re facing a second potential strike in a scant 10 years?
Though you couldn’t have convinced me of this a month ago, as it stands right now, I firmly believe there’s a 50 percent chance our teachers will walk out. And I’m basing that prediction on a lengthy conversation with an insider who expertly explained exactly why we are where we are right now.
I promise I will endeavor to simplify a rather complex situation:
1. Why D304 starting salaries are lower
The last teacher’s contract (2015 – 2018) included an automatic 2.65 percent annual raise for EXISTING teachers. Previous contracts contained similar provisions. So, what this dynamic did was create an expanding chasm between new and current teacher salaries, because starting pay remained virtually unchanged by default.
So, the news reports that made it appear as if the Board made a conscious decision to offer a lower introductory rate were dead wrong.
2. The Board wanted to address the starting salary issue once and for all
Seeing that growing salary schism, and with Springfield constantly mucking up the works, the School Board added a 2015 contract provision that called for the creation of a committee tasked with revamping the remuneration model once and for all. And the teacher’s union agreed to that stipulation.
3. The task force couldn’t come to a consensus
Despite 18 long months of negotiations, the committee, consisting of Geneva Education members (teachers), School Board members, and district administrators, could not come to terms. That meant, per the 2015 contract, the salary structure conundrum was automatically tossed into the new contract negotiations.
So, not only are the board and teacher’s union discussing pay increases, but an entirely new way of doing business. That may well be the definition of a Herculean task.
4. Many D304 teachers want to go back to the old salary/step and lane system
I understand, but that’s not going to happen, because a deal is a deal. When every school district was renegotiating teacher contracts during the Great Recession, the citizens of Geneva and the School Board kept their end of the bargain. And if the teachers are upset with the current reality, they need to take it up with their union reps and not the school board.
5. They’ve been negotiating a new contract since February
If you add 18 months to 9 more, that’s more than two years of salary structure futility, which doesn’t bode well for the future. My 50 percent walkout prediction is derived from combing that impasse with the fact that no teacher really wants to strike.
6. Then Springfield made it much more difficult
In the middle of all of this, the General Assembly changed the rules. That never happens, right? Though, in this particular case, I think they were dead on.
Tired of rampant pension spiking, they passed a statute mandating that, for every dollar a retiring teacher is paid above a 3 percent annual increase, the district would have to send $17 back to the state! It’s not unlike Major League Baseball’s luxury tax which kicks in whenever a team goes over a certain salary level.
For the uninitiated, “pension spiking” is the practice by which a school district might provide as much as a 20 percent salary increase in a teacher’s final year. It was a negotiating ploy that artificially bumped their pension and put the financial burden on the state, and not local taxpayers.
And that three percent baseline includes everything; even stipends for running after school clubs. As you might image, the School Board does not want to pay a “luxury tax” under any circumstances, which further complicates the negotiating process.
Since your brain probably hurts just as much as mine does right now, we’ll continue this conversation tomorrow or Thursday when I’ll explain why the Geneva Education Association is directing their energy and anger at the wrong targets.