Quick Hit’s – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Three

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.

Geneva Teachers

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.

18 thoughts on “Quick Hit’s – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Three

  1. Dawn Clark Neitch and Jim Edgar has a property tax and state tax switch all set to go and Pate Phillip killed it at last second. Ironic since now the collar counties are taxed to death. The state has to step up with as you said a corresponding reduction in local propert tax
    Student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy.
    Schools have no reason to change unless they are on hook for taking kids just for the guaranteed money. Following is a Forbes article that shifts some of risk of default to schools. I hope I did it correctly not s techie but with a student loan I bet I could become one:
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/richardvedder/2018/04/30/what-universities-need-more-skin-in-the-game/amp/

  2. Very good points Jeff! The only part I might disagree with you is we’re just one party has been at fault for the student loan debacle. I don’t believe this is just a one-party issue. Bill Clinton had a great opportunity to reform student loan debt. He bulked at all and made it more difficult.

    • John,

      You’re right about Clinton, but I was more concerned with where we are now in this piece.

      • Now or later, it will not matter. The bank lobby will be there and ignorant kids taking loans on degrees for jobs, that don’t pay squat but for some reason require a degree..

        It’s been a slow but recently speeding up process that I have been calling “The Dumbing Down of Education.”

        You can take or grab tests or education processes from back years ago and those tests are foreign to students today. Fundamental education has been lost with emotional filled, lack of sources, feelings based education. Not a good trade to develop students to enter real world applications.

  3. Sorry Jeff, you had me and then you lost me. You caution against making poor financial choices in regards to certain degrees and then you advocate for student loan reform and a form of debt forgiveness? It is called choice and personal responsibility. If someone wants to earn a degree in underwater basket weaving, it is their responsibility to accept the outcome. This includes teachers who perpetually go back to school for “endorsements” expecting the taxpayers to compensate them for this choice.
    The Geneva teachers have showed themselves as petulant, entitled individuals. Their behavior has been shocking and a terrible example for their students.

    • Annoyed,

      First, there is a rule on this blog that at least I have to know who you are. jeffnward@comcast.net.

      Second, as the great Marilyn Millian likes to say, there is a concept in the law that if you charge usurious loan rates, the entire loan will be forgiven. And that certainly applies to student loans. As I said, I don’t advocate for complete forgiveness, but that playing field does need to be leveled.

      Third, though I was clear about bad educational choices, I understand that starry eyed first time college students can be lured into paying far too much to pursue a dream. Yes! They have to take responsibility, but so do the colleges and loan companies.

      Fourth, college is no longer necessary to make a good living. My son can tear a computer down and put it back together in minutes. He doesn’t need college. That growing sentiment will put an end to that bubble and many colleges will close.

      Fifth, while there is an entitlement mentality that’s rife in Geneva, I would not describe them as “petulant” and “entitled” until they strike. As I pointed out in this too-long piece, they’re simply fighting the wrong battle.

      Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    You have many good ideas but your “decouple” idea is not one of them.

    If our property tax dollars have to take an all-expenses-self-paid round trip to Springfield, the dollars will trickle back as dimes, nickels, and pennies.

    Geneva gets close to zero state money because we are fortunate to have a high assessed valuation per student – i.e. “the formula”. Districts with low per-student valuations would love to have all the money in one big state pot. The folks in Springfield like to buy votes, even if they have to borrow by the billion to do it. Geneva schools will be a huge loser under your “decouple” scenario.

    Of course, our former Republican Congresspersons upset the Geneva school equilibrium with the “SALT” cap which results in a large effective local property tax hike for many taxpayers in places like the tri-cities. “Decouple” the now direct pipeline of money to the local schools and the trickle of money coming back will make the next teacher’s contract negotiation make this one seem like a love fest.

    Rod

    • Rodney,

      The whole equitable school funding thing could be another three-part column, because it’s patently unfair for D304, or any affluent school district, to be exponentially better funded by an accident of geography.

      Geneva could get by on far less with no discernible difference in the quality of education.

      Meanwhile districts like East Aurora, U-46, and D300 suffer academically because they’re primarily minority districts. More funding would make a huge difference there and in the lives of those students.

      Of course, there’s always the risk of giving the state a property tax, but it seems to be working in Michigan and Indiana. Regardless, the Illinois collar counties are at their property tax limit and something has to change or we’re gonna get a Prop 14 out here that will force radical change.

      And I disagree! Decoupling, along with a full reworking of the teacher salary model would end the likelihood of future strikes.

      Jeff

      • Jeff,

        As the old school cheerleader joke goes, you raise a “course of a different holler”: equitable school funding.

        I agree that Illinois, among its myriad of problems, suffers from inequality in school funding. But your basic premise is untested: Geneva could do as well on “far less” while more funding in Elgin “would make a huge difference”. This asymmetry rarely exists in nature.

        As a resident and taxpayer of Geneva, I am reluctant to support an experiment that requires the risk of bringing strong districts down based on a fervent hope that more money will bring weaker districts up.

        Your view requires defining the exact tipping point where funding added above it is money wasted and funding added below it is well invested until the tipping point is reached. I strongly suspect politics and not science will determine your tipping point.

        Rod

      • Rod,

        We’re actually kinda coming at the same-ish solution from different directions.

        I’ve written about this numerous times before, but it’s been awhile, so I don’t remember the specifics. But it goes something like continuing to throw more money at U.S. education in reasonably funded districts hasn’t improved test scores etc. in 30 years.

        Therefore, the logical converse is, a reasonable reduction in funding won’t affect the quality of education here either. And it’s already happening! Our illustrious D304 superintendent (a real piece of work who lives behind me) completely blew up at a superintendents’ gathering over the fact that U-46 was getting more funding and Geneva was getting less under the recent reform measure. With the Dems in complete control of Illinois, that will continue to happen.

        And we’re going to have to risk something different, because if D304 significantly raises property taxes in the next 5 years, I’ll get a Prop 14 like measure on the ballot, and with an 85 percent campaign managing track record, it will pass.

        The Collar Counties simply cannot keep going down the property tax/school funding path. It’s become utterly untenable.

  5. Rodney Nelson’s comments illustrate why school funding reform is unlikely to occur, or at least will not be accomplished without a lot of pain and expenditure of political capital.

    Simply put, voters who are happy with their schools simply will not go along with any “reform” that leaves them with higher taxes and their schools with less money. That’s the bottom line. And since the locus of political power in this state (as in most others) is the suburbs, if suburbanites don’t want it, it ain’t happening.

    Yes, it’s a problem that’s every bit as vexing and intractable as the public pension crisis (to which it is related). And if you can come up with an answer, you’re a better man than I am.

    • Pan,

      We’ll have to come up with an answer because we have no choice. Even the Geneva School Board knows that future tax hikes mean revolution – and I’ll lead the way!

      Former Oswego mayor Valerie Burd, who’s somewhat of a loon that is addicted to running for office, actually proposed an interesting school funding alternative on the radio show a few years back. Larry and I were both impressed.

      When property taxes can go no higher – and Kane County is there now – there will be change.

      Jeff

    • I am all for reform and would consider any change that would improve public education. But if “reform” is simply code for wealth redistribution, then count me as a skeptic. To me reform requires innovation and innovation is never risk free. The new way might be worse than the old. One thing seems certain to me. Top down mandates on every aspect of curriculum and instructional methods kills innovation. Mandating mediocraty through an educational status quo that outlaws innovation and hoping for a miracle born out of wealth rearrangement is magical thinking and not reform.

  6. One of the reasons the United States is great is because of the different ways states solve problems. I don’t think Illinois needs to re invent school funding just look around
    There must be some state(s) that do it right. Copy them or take parts from the best and do it here

  7. Jeff, you and I are on opposite sides of the political aisle but I appreciate your article. I guess my question for you is your thought about dumping pensions going forward. I believe that many people (like me) find it unsustainable in the current economy. I am a lawyer (but not in lucrative private practice since I have three young kids), and lament not becoming a teacher for the pension alone. What is your thought on pension reform?

    Interestingly we moved here from Colorado three years ago. Our property taxes were a half of one percent and kids had a myriad number of school options (school choice, charter schools, etc). And our county’s schools were excellent. I feel that IL needs to catch up…..we just gave up after two years in STC public schools and sent our kids to private school.

    • Jodie,

      I appreciate your appreciation.

      Interestingly, Illinois teachers have to put more into their pension funds than most, or all other starts. And since my wife is a teacher, I know how long she has to teach before she gets any kind of a pension.

      Furthermore, if you survive 30 years of teaching – generally what it takes to get those big pensions – I’m alright with what those teachers get.

      But you’re right, the whole pension theme is antiquated and just doesn’t work any more. Back when I was doing the radio show, a couple of reasonable political guests and I agreed that paying teachers more, but giving them their own 401K-like program would be the way to go.

      And you aren’t kidding about Illinois needing to catch up. Though I’m not nearly a conservative, as long as Illinois is dominated by Democrats, it’s not likely to change. But I’m hoping incoming Governor Pritzker has the cojones to implement real change because he paid for his own campaign and is beholden to no one.

      Jeff

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