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.
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.