I swear this is going to be the final installment of this already-too-long three-part series even if we have to go into overtime!
To briefly review, in part one we covered the series of events that put the Geneva Teacher’s Union at the brink of a strike. Part two considered some of the letters D304 teachers sent to the School Board. As promised, part three will examine a real solution to a problem that needlessly pits teachers against taxpayers.
But before we go there, I’d like to clear something up first. A couple of blog commenters challenged me to point out the 2015 contract paragraph that stipulated the end of step and lane.
But that’s not what I said!
I simply noted the clause by which the union and board agreed to discuss the current D304 salary structure. That conversation, by definition, infers change because there’s really no need to negotiate an issue that’s already settled.
And the fact that the committee managed to get nowhere in 18 months of deliberations certainly seems to indicate some disingenuousness on the union’s part.
With that out of the way, onto the solutions:
1. Decouple school funding from local property taxes
This is the heart of the issue! This is what Geneva, and all Illinois teachers, should really be fighting for. Five Illinois counties – Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kendall and Kane – are ranked in the top 30 property taxed counties in the country, so when I said “we’re all taxed out” in part two, there’s all the evidence you need.
If Michigan and Indiana can make a major shift in the funding reform direction, then so can we. We have a Democratic governor beholden to no one who enjoys the kind of General Assembly majorities to finally get the job done, too.
Perhaps the proceeds from legalized marijuana could ease property tax pain. It might mean a state property tax, too, but I’d take that over the current broken system hands down. A statewide property tax (with a healthy reduction in the local tax rate) would also provide a much more equitable school funding mechanism.
2. Break up the student loan-college tuition Ponzi scheme
And that’s exactly what it is – a Ponzi scheme by which colleges and universities can send tuition soaring as a result of an abundance of government backed money loaned to students at usurious rates.
As a college education continues to become less critical to future earning earnings, this “system” will eventually collapse under its own weight. But that doesn’t help the educators drowning in a sea of student debt right now.
Some federal Democrats have tried to get the loan reform ball rolling, but those recalcitrant Republicans have consistently blocked them. Ah! But there’s a new Congressional crew on their way to Washington and, as those midterm results indicated, anti-GOP sentiment is at an all-time high.
I’m not advocating for complete forgiveness, but there are several bills on the table that would greatly reduce the financial burden on those 44 million Americans facing $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.
This is another battle cry teachers should be taking up.
3. Market forces are in your favor
Though this isn’t the kind of solution where a collectively applied willpower will work, it’s worth noting that fewer teachers seeking jobs means salaries will naturally rise.
When my wife was hired by East Aurora in 2013, the district could pick and choose from up to ten candidates. Fast forward to 2018, and they can’t hire teachers. It’s gotten so bad that my wife was moved from math intervention to honors classes with a long-term sub taking her old spot.
Considering how conservatives love to use teachers as a punching bag, Texas is putting up interstate billboards to try to lure teachers to that state, Kansas can’t find enough teachers to fill their classrooms, and California is offering $7,000 bonuses plus moving expenses for educators willing to go west.
Our point three will have to unfold naturally, but were I a teacher, you better believe I’d be fighting for property tax and student loan reform. And teachers have the kind of unions and lobbyists that can really get that ball rolling. Just ask outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He may have broken that state’s teacher’s union, but it was those well-organized educators who certainly had the last laugh.
It doesn’t necessarily take unions and lobbyists to effect that kind of change, either. When my wife was attending National Louis University, a Tribune expose on errant early graduation practices incited Illinois into banning the practice where a student could graduate one class short of a master’s degree.
The statutory shift was so devastating that a number of her classmates quit without finishing their degree. They knew that diving into the teacher pool with a master’s in the aftermath of the Great Recession was a great way to stay unemployed.
Not one to give up without a fight, one of my wife’s classmates and I worked very closely with NLU President Nivine Megahed to get Springfield to reverse course. And much to our surprise, they did!
Now, I’m sure other folks and other schools entered the fray, but it still amazes me how we made such an impact. Considering what Wisconsin teachers just did, and if a determined trio can pull off that kind of thing, I’m sure Illinois teachers are more than up to the task.
Because the teachers’ real enemies are an antiquated education funding mechanism and a student loan industry that’s more than willing to saddle college student with unsupportable debt. They certainly aren’t the Geneva School Board, whom I believe are doing their best, or the Geneva taxpayer, who’s already tapped out.
The truth is, teachers, taxpayers and school boards should be working toward the common goal of ensuring our children have the best possible educational opportunities before they walk into a global economy and deal with dizzying 24/7 digital world.
The bottom line is, after almost 3,000 words on the subject, I hope Geneva teachers are smart enough to find a way to avoid a strike. Because, like I said. the real battle has yet to be fought.