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The Impending Teacher's Strike - Trying to Take a Balanced View

A hopefully balanced perspective on the impending teacher's strike

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.

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mom of two October 15, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Thank you for your contribution, fair and balanced.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther October 15, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Dr. Greenspan: Thank you for saying what many of us are thinking. I hope that the parties are all listening. Both sides need to compromise and then rebuild the trust that has been lost through the process. As I understand it, the teachers have offered to pay for more health insurance, for example, only to be rebuffed by the District. On the other hand, the District is well within their rights to negotiate a different lane situation, though it might be unfair to those who started the process under the previous agreement. So far, I would say that the positions expressed by both sides are not very flexible. I hope that changes.
Seriously? October 16, 2012 at 10:11 AM
Well said. Your commentary is one that I think both sides can appreciate and hopefully agree with.
Nancy S. Karp October 16, 2012 at 12:58 PM
I also agree with your comments. Teachers don't inderstand that the rest of us don't have guaranteed pensions (Social Security not comparable), guaranteed pay increases, or automatic recognition of advanced degrees. And our health insurance costs have tripled. I do not know specifics of Dist 113 administrators salaries, pensions, and perks, but I am sure there are opportunities to help the taxpayers' burden.
Steven N October 16, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Great comments but there seems to be little reason to believe that ground-breaking negotiation is suddenly going to come to the fore. It would be really wonderful to see some truly constructive negotiations that lead to a new paradigm that would reflect the realities of the time in which we live. It would be wonderful for the adults to have demonstrated real problem solving skills for our children, but that too is unlikely. So now I am afraid we will wait to see who blinks first and how much the children and taxpayers have to pay for this really sad day.
Highlands HP'er October 16, 2012 at 06:44 PM
You almost nearly touch on why I think these problems occur. Some people say teachers are underpaid. And for the teachers with 5+ years experience getting paid in the low 40's a year.. Id say its true. Some say teachers are overpaid. I would say that the teacher with 30+ years making 110,000 with the last year pension sweeteners... id say you were correct. Ultimately they all end up doing the same job. People like to think of the teachers as being this united group with a shared set of concerns. However, the young teacher is more concerned about just getting a wage that helps them pay their college loans and pay their rent. I think this huge disparity in pay as well as this huge disparity in sacrifice creates the problem. A pay freeze hits the young teachers and is instituted to protect the high pay and pensions of the older teachers. An older teacher who is already making six figures simply wont care about a pay freeze. A teacher trying to make ends meet at 42k a year while paying student loans is in a totally different situation. They are told to accept lower pay to preserve the high pay of older teachers that they themselves will likely never see. I honestly think a fair deal would be to allow the younger teachers a 3% raise and have the older teachers take a 2% cut. I think balancing the budget solely on the back of the young teachers is simply not fair.
David Greenberg October 16, 2012 at 10:26 PM
While the teachers union has the right to strike, there's nothing illegal about firing workers who walk off the job. The District hasn't locked them out - in fact, the District told the teachers if they wanted to work, to advise them of that fact. Otherwise, turn in your keycard/iPads, and pick up your stuff. After that your email, insurance, and wages are suspended - because they're not working by their own choice.
Walter White October 16, 2012 at 10:57 PM
So why isn't the district taking your sage advice?
Jerry Hopkins October 17, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Walter, I love your comments. You put Greenie in check and you do it well! Greenie, you're all right (albeit a bit opinionated (more then a bit :) Joe, did you say something?
David Greenberg October 17, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Walter, I have no idea. You'd have to contact the District if you want to determine why they've done something or not.
Walter White October 17, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Somebody has to.
Walter White October 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Joe 4:28 pm on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 "Walter White, Professionals do not belong to trade unions." So which is it, professor? Do they or don't they? I thought you were some sort of labor historian.
Walter White October 17, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Oh, and by the way, since you say the administrators are "next" I'll be looking forward to your white paper on how we can reduce administrator salaries and benefits. When should I expect that?
Jerry Hopkins October 18, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Joe, Did you say something?
David Greenberg October 18, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Really? Why praytell would that be?
llwvrt October 18, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Dr. Greenspan, thank you for your comments. I will add that not all teachers share the "ivory tower" viewpoint of your patients. They do function in the real world. They pay rising real estate taxes and face possible loss of their homes. They pay for rising health costs, especially if they have family insurance. They are frequently the sole support of the family when their spouses are unemployed. They aren't any different than the rest of the world. I can only assume that the few teachers you know are the exception. The rest of us worry about everything our neighbors do. As for pensions- that is because we are state employees and we have no control over how that pension is managed or mismanaged. Advanced degrees do not necessarily grant automatic gigantic pay increases.
Walter White October 18, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Oh, come on Joe. You had to delete your comments because you got caught in a lie? I thought you were a bigger man than that.
Jack Straw October 18, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I do not lie. I realized I was dealing with others that only had a Jr High mentality, And thought it best to disengage.

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