District 112 Board 'Doing Everything We Can' To Avoid Teachers' Strike
Highland Park's elementary and middle school board president says the looming teachers' strike is "personally painful" in a letter to community members.
Dear North Shore School District 112 Community Members:
Many of you have reached out to me over the past two days to ask that the board do everything possible to avoid a teacher strike.
I want to assure you that board members are committed to doing everything we can to arrive at a settlement that will be fair to our teachers and responsible to our community.
I want to let you know that the situation we face is personally painful to me and to my fellow board members. Our community has a long, rich history of commitment to excellent schools. People who grew up here often return as adults because they want their children to benefit from the same outstanding education that they received. We became board members because we share that same commitment and passion for our schools.
I am so proud of our hard-working and dedicated teaching staff. Last year, our district boasted four Golden Apple finalists---an unheard of number for a district our size. Next week, several of our teaching staff will be honored with an Illinois State Board of Education Those Who Excel Award, and several received the very highest category of that award. We have teaching staff who present at national conferences, and teachers who go above and beyond every day to provide our children with enriching experiences both inside and outside the classroom.
Our offer at the table has nothing to do with how much we respect, value and appreciate our teachers. If it were possible to give our teachers the monetary raises that the union is asking for, we would do so. But when we signed on as board members, we took on the obligation to ensure an outstanding education for all students who walk through our doors. The simple truth is we won't be able to meet that obligation if we agree to the current union proposal, or any settlement which will keep us in the situation of spending more than we can by law collect.
Over the last three years, my fellow board members and I have been in the painful position of having to make millions of dollars in budget cuts, including laying off employees, in order to preserve the financial health of the district. If we agree to a contract that is beyond our means, we will be forced to choose between making deeper and more painful cuts, or depleting our finances to the point where we imperil our future.
School finances are complicated, and as board members we have devoted countless hours to understanding them and doing our best to do what we were elected to do: provide sound financial stewardship.
What has been particularly disheartening during this negotiation process is that the union leadership has contended that this is somehow a made-up problem. They are telling their members that the district has adequate funds to cover what they are asking for. They have said that the board's position is a tea party politics mentality and that we are using the weak economy as an excuse to take advantage of our teachers. This is misguided and inaccurate. This has nothing to do with politics and the economic environment is not an excuse but a reality. For those who want more information on the specific issues, click here for a document that addresses the many myths that the union leadership has promulgated during these negotiations.
We want to continue to negotiate and we believe that given enough time and a concerted effort on the part of both sides, we can come to an agreement that will be acceptable to the union and responsible to the community. Unfortunately, the union leadership has said they will strike if no agreement is reached by October 16, and legally they are within their rights to do so. Union leaders still have the right---and in my opinion the ethical obligation---to withdraw their threat to strike, and to continue to focus all their efforts on negotiating a settlement while allowing teachers to continue teaching and children to continue learning. It is as disheartening to me as I'm sure it is to you that children and families will be those most hurt in this process.
District 112 School Board President