As the District 112 Teacher strikes looms, I thought I’d put my two cents in.
Having been the Medical Director of Psychiatric Services at Highland Park Hospital from 1991 to 2001, I think I learned some things about how administrations work. For example, I remember how the hospital administration balked at creating the Crisis Intervention program I'd recommended. “Too costly" and "no need” they responded. After three years of my being a thorn in their side, they finally relented, and the program has thrived ever since.
District 112 Contract Negotiations: The Story So Far
Highland Park Hospital was top-heavy with administrators while our inpatient Psychiatry unit couldn’t get funds for additional programs and personnel. The paint was peeling off the walls and the furniture breaking on the unit while the administrative offices were being updated at enormous cost. One vice president informed me that funds for people and funds for “plant updates” were separate. To say the least, my frustration was great.
In thinking about the impending teacher strike I cannot help but wonder if this administration operates similarly. Rumor is the Superintendant took a pay increase this year and that a chief financial officer, with a significant salary, was brought in to oversee finance. Some administrators have roles in this system which clearly demonstrate a lack of competence or concern. For example, when my stepson injured himself (20 stitches) at recess on a soccer post holder sticking out of the ground, I had to pursue the administrator whose job it was to oversee grounds. He essentially did nothing to insure safety until I turned up the heat. When nursing decisions have to be made at our schools there isn’t a Director of Nursing to make those. A non-medical administrator makes them, sometimes poorly.
On the other hand, we live in difficult economic times. Two to three years ago a patient of mine who is a teacher complained to me that her family health insurance had just increased to $400 per month. I informed her that I paid $1,400 per month. She was incredulous. Her frame of reference had been the historically protected state of teaching. As our economic times have changed the days of tenure, teacher salaries and pensions need to be re-evaluated with both fairness and caution. As I learned our family paid $1,500 more in property taxes last year, not because our property had increased in value but because County department budgets had increased, and the State allows for a multiplier to cover these costs. At some point, many homeowners risk losing their homes due to these tax increases.
I think teachers, the board and administration need to bring flexibility and creativity to the process of negotiation. Administrators may need to to take cuts in their salaries and eliminate wasteful administrative costs and positions. If administrators are unwilling to look at this, we may need to evaluate their performance with greater scrutiny. On the other hand, teachers need to view the world outside of their system. Another teacher patient of mine recently said teachers deserve their pay given their “advanced degrees.” I suggest that there are many people with advanced degrees in this country who are unemployed. In the world outside of our schools if one doesn’t do the job, even if he or she has done the job for 10 years, that person’s job will be in jeopardy. Many of us will work well beyond what's been traditionally considered retirement age given that we don't have the funds to retire. Should teachers receive a pension that allows them to? How can we afford this? And when it comes to health insurance for teachers, should teachers pay extraordinarily less than the rest of us? Teacher's in the district aren't wealthy and should, I believe, receive some perks for the extraordinary work they do.
There is no question that a good teacher is a joy forever. I never would’ve become a physician had it not been for the enthusiasm, knowledge and inspiration my teachers provided. And we in this District want our schools to be competitive by keeping and obtaining the very best teachers. I support the right of teachers to strike, hope they will not be illegally punished for doing so and hope all sides will create a spirit of compromise.