Quick Hits – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Two

On Tuesday, we covered the underpinnings of the current stalemate between the Geneva teacher’s union and the School Board which may well lead to a strike. I put the probability of a walkout at 50 percent, but having read the letters a variety of D304 educators sent the School Board, those odds increase every day there isn’t a settlement.

As promised, we’re going begin to get into why the Geneva Education Association is tilting their lances at the wrong windmills. Since this complex issue will likely lead to a lengthy column, and possibly a part three, let’s persist with our numbered list methodology. It’s much easier to digest this tough topic in smaller chunks.

D304

But before we continue, let me, once again, clearly stipulate that my wife is a math interventionist in the East Aurora School District. So, I really don’t want to hear any of that anti-teacher bleep. I couldn’t possibly be more sympathetic to their plight, but unless we start from the truth, it’s much more difficult to make positive headway.

With that in mind, let’s consider those missives to the Board first:

1. Educational choices have consequences

About a year ago, a young Facebook friend was very excited about her decision to be an art history major. My response, “So, you won’t mind waiting tables for the rest of your life,” made her so mad she blocked me. That may have made her feel better, but I was telling her the truth.

Considering the insane cost of a college education (we’ll get to that), whenever I hear someone say they’re going to get a master’s in English literature, a philosophy Ph.D., or a journalism degree – and they’re gonna pay for it all with student loans – I want to beat them with a 2 by 4 until they come to their senses.

So, while I certainly admire the Geneva teacher who had the wherewithal to acquire two master’s degrees, if you really want your salary to be commensurate with that education, becoming a teacher was a really bad choice.

And I can say this with certainty as I sit here, once again, plying my beloved journalistic trade for free! Talk about a career change that didn’t work out well! But you don’t hear me bitching about it, either.

Do I think there’s a vast dichotomy between a teacher’s educational requirements and what they’re actually paid? Yes, I do! But my wife, and every last Geneva teacher, knew that going in. Sometimes doing what you love means sacrifice.

2. A troublesome entitlement mentality

One of the most difficult concepts to impart unto those formerly striking Kane County probation workers was, just because the County had a budget surplus, it doesn’t mean that money automatically goes to you. As it is with all government entities, there’s a long line of folks waiting for their slice of the pie.

So, when some sympathetic folks published that D304 had the money for raises without raising property taxes on Facebook, I wanted to quickly point out the flaw in their logic, but they’d turned off the comments on those posts.

BTW, spreading propaganda – and it was propaganda – without allowing comment is a really bad idea. How do I know? Because a surprising number of Genevans extended their utter dismay regarding that tactic through private means.

Thanks to the pre-Great Recession Mary Stith led school boards, D304 continues to face a mountain of debt from inexplicably building too many schools. The current board has done a magnificent job of paying down that debt, but those capital expense chickens will continue to come home to roost.

And as sure as McKinley Avenue will be packed at 7:30 every weekday morning, the state will continue to thrust unfunded mandates upon all school districts, older buildings will have to be maintained and updated, and support staff will want raises, too.

I’m not saying Geneva teachers don’t deserve more. In fact, I firmly believe educators should be paid far more than they are now (we’ll get to that). But one has to understand that teachers are but one of a School Board’s many responsibilities.

Considering that fiscal balancing act, to say salary increases won’t eventually affect property taxes is the worst kind of wishful thinking. And trust me, Genevans are all taxed out!

3. We’re all in the same economic boat

One of my favorite Geneva teachers lamented that he and his wife were driving cars with 190,000 miles on them. Welcome to the club! I’m driving a 2001 pickup truck with 130,000 miles and my wife heads to East Aurora every day in a 2008 Honda with 120,000 miles.

A number of those letters to the Board described the burden of student loan debt. I know! We’re paying off my wife’s student loan right now.

Another teacher complained of having to work summer jobs so she and her fiancé could make ends meet. But her base pay is $60,000 which is 15.4 percent more than the average American worker makes. So, that argument certainly won’t gain any traction.

Another common theme was that it’s very expensive to live in Geneva. I know! I live here too! But you all keep reelecting a mayor who never met a tax increase or fee hike he didn’t like. And because they help him campaign, he generally gives the city employee unions everything they want.

Meanwhile, 13 of the 21 Geneva Township precincts went for Governor Rauner who’s as anti-teacher and anti-union as it gets. It would seem that some teachers have no problem voting against their own best interest.

But the bottom line is, we understand because we’re right there with you.

4. The board is not playing games

This is the point that bothers me the most. While I fervently believe some Geneva School Board members have far more merit than others, I’ve never doubted their dedication to the district, their constituents, or D304 teachers.

Serving on a school board is an incredibly difficult and thankless task because you’re dealing with folks’ two most precious commodities – their children and their bank accounts. Not only that but, done correctly, that non-paying gig can quickly turn into a full-time endeavor.

So, when I hear Geneva teachers say the school board is playing games with the union, my sympathy for their cause plummets dramatically. What point would there be to engage in the kind of gamesmanship that would likely result in a strike? No one comes out of that unscathed.

5. Public sentiment is not on your side

Who doesn’t love Geneva teachers? And I’m sure it’s gratifying to see all those supportive signs on front lawns. But as a reasonably successful campaign manager, I tell my candidates that, just because someone says they’re behind you doesn’t mean it’s true.

Voters will tell you what you want to hear just to get rid of you and get back to their lives. But then they tell me how they really feel. And what they’re really thinking right now is teachers deserve some sort of raise, but if they strike, that sympathy will rapidly shift to the school board.

Put more simply, if D304 teachers do walk out, it will take them at least a decade to recover politically. Please understand, I’m simply the messenger and not the message.

 

So, there will be a part three likely on Monday (11/19). In that installment we’ll cover the real answer to the teacher salary structure conundrum and those usurious student loan payments.

9 thoughts on “Quick Hits – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Two

  1. NAIL ON THE HEAD!!!!!

  2. The state is a mess. The collar counties are taxed out and really are nothing but a cash cow for the entire state. The state constitution says the state shall pay the preponderance of the cost of education
    There has to be a fundamental change in school financing. Eliminate local funding for schools make it up on a progressive income tax and get rid of unfunded mandates
    However do you think Geneva St Charles Elmhurst Hinsdale would ever give up local control. When is the last time Chicago ever passed a referendum for schools they get more funding from state than we do and downstate all the land is taxed farmland we take property taxes in the neck for whole state
    The whole educational system state wide needs to be scrapped and a big do over
    That said I am with teachers probably

    • Jim,

      In part three we will discuss how IL teachers’ salaries have to be decoupled from property taxes. And how the college tuition/student loan dynamic is nothing but a ponzi scheme that will eventually collapse.

  3. Excellent teachers are vital to the survival of the American way of life.
    To attract the best and the brightest their total compensation must be competitive with that of other professions. Somewhere in a distant corner of my memory I recall suggesting decades ago in Geneva that part of the solution had to be full-time teachers, but not necessarily year-round school for the kids. To be paid pensions and benefits competitive with other year-round professions, the teachers must join the year-round ranks. A corollary is that actuarial realities also dictate a reduction of full pensions at any age short of about 65.
    Year-round school talk historically has been voiced when enrollment growth is rapid and classroom shortages loom. But 80%+ of school costs are in the payroll. A shift to year around school use would produce a one time significant step-up in classrooms, which we do not now need. But the payroll savings would be sustained and long-term, simply because eventually fewer teachers would be needed.
    Yes, this would require complicated scheduling and potential family disruptions, among many other complications. This idea is not new and is not a panacea. A transition to year-round teachers would need to be phased in after a long planning period. And it would need to be statewide. And the transition would have to be teacher led. But year-round teacher positions could be a partial but still substantial contributor to Illinois’ pension/budget woes.

    • I don’t understand your point, but I do know that your comment “To be paid pensions and benefits competitive with other year-round professions, the teachers must join the year-round ranks.” is missing the point. According to state law, the union was only allowed to opt out of social security if the benefits paid EXCEEDED that paid to the hard-working stiff who funds the schools. That’s the issue-the greedy union has bled taxpayers dry, and continues to want more. Even more insulting is the recent comment that a strike won’t take place over Thanksgiving week, the spin being it would be disruptive to families. Just more lies. The reason is the greedy teachers want the holiday pay to pad those pensions. They couldn’t care less about your Thanksgiving, about your taxes or even about the kids. It’s all about fleecing the taxpayers and fleeing the state.

      • Well, Your Honor, we are even then. I do not understand your point.

        I was just trying to point out one action that might reduce the magnitude of Illinois’ fiscal problem. I doubt that any one action will solve the entire problem.

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