I'd like to preface this article with the statement that I believe in a quality education but that we have to balance the needs of the District with the needs of the Taxpayers and Children. I am not against teachers, but I am opposed to fiscal irresponsibility.
Several years ago, I made public comments before the D112 Board of Education regarding my thoughts on the salary/benefits contained in the NSEA contract. I served on the D112 Citizen's Financial Advisory Committee, and in a few short years my own children will attend D112 Schools (just as I did) - but my fear is that if we don't act in a fiscally responsible manner now, the education that my children receive in D112 won't be as good (or better) than the one I received there.
For decades, the salary/benefits provided in the Private Sector have been undergoing changes; as the worldwide economic situation continues to be poor, our home values are dropping, tax revenues are constrained, persons have had pay freezes and benefit reductions, etc. - it's simply not feasible for the taxpayers to continue to fund automatic raises, pension spikes, and cadillac health plans for the NSEA members.
As many of us know, the North Shore Education Association (NSEA) representing the D112 Teachers has announced their intent to strike. The NSEA has made proposals that the D112 Board of Education hasn't agreed with, and the NSEA has issued a response here:
I've read this response and come to the conclusion that the NSEA are a bunch of greedy individuals who don't deserve our support. Here's why:
- NSEA: "The school board continues to try to win the negotiations battle with misinformation and innuendo".
So what? So does the NSEA. That the NSEA consider it a battle, with our children used as pawns is reprehensible.
- NSEA: "...apparently now the board is also going to keep a timetable of events."
Good. Why is this a big deal? I'd expect the NSEA to do the same. If everyone's being responsive, it won't be a problem. If someone's not being responsive, it'll demonstrate that fact.
- NSEA: "It has been apparent that [the board does] not consider the teachers their equals..."
Uh huh. That's because the TEACHERS are EMPLOYEES of the Board. They are not EQUALS of the employer. They are hired to solve a problem that the employer happens to have at the present time - education of children. They don't get to dictate the terms of their employment to the employer - if they don't like what the employer is offering, they can move to greener pastures - if indeed those pastures actually exist.
- NSEA: "At no time during the bargaining session did the board request for the strike to be delayed....The board does NOT appear committed to avoiding a strike. If they were, they would be negotiating a contract that would keep District 112 teachers on par with the contracts of surrounding districts. The NSEA will not withdraw the planned strike."
It's not up to the Board to ask for the NSEA to withdraw or delay the strike - the NSEA has CHOSEN to strike, and if THEY were committed to avoiding a strike, THEY could simply unilaterally delay or withdraw it.
The Board/District does not have to negotiate a contract that keeps anyone on a so-called par with another District - especially if it's financially unsustainable - the Board is responsible to the taxpayers - not the teachers. Ever-increasing salaries to 'remain on par' only engages us in an Educational Arms Race against other Districts with salaries that sprial ever-upward, and with no guarantee that the education of our children is any better as a result. If the NSEA/Teachers don't believe the offer is fair - they can move to greener pastures - if indeed those pastures actually exist.
- NSEA: "The Highland Park community deserves better than a board of education bent on damaging the quality of District 112 schools...."
The Highland Park community has a Board that is bent on PRESERVING the quality of the District 112 schools - both educationally and financially. What we deserve better of are TEACHERS - TEACHERS who won't weaponize our children in an effort to gain a financially unsustainable contract. We deserve TEACHERS who treat the taxpayers respectfully.
- NSEA: "Still open to discuss a multi-year contract."
Sorry, no deal. Just like we won't be suckered anymore into signing a multi-year cell phone contract, we're not going to be suckered into a multi-year teacher contract. In fact, we don't need a contact at all - it adds ZERO value to the taxpayers because it restricts our flexibility in making changes that may be necessary due to fiscal or other constraints.
- NSEA: "Honor all previously approved lane changes"
This I actually believe they should get. We made a deal with someone, we ought to honor it - be a mensch. No more automatic lane changes though - if their performance supports it, we'll consider them for a raise, but no more guaranteed raises. It's financially unsustainable.
- NSEA: "Retirement. Retain the salary enhancement plan of 4 years times 6%. Reduce the lump sum post-retirement payment to $10,000. Grandfather previously approved retirement packages from previous contract."
We ought to grandfather in previously approved packages. But we ought to ABSOLUTELY NOT retain any salary enhancement plans or post-retirement payments.
No more pension sweeteners - right now the State is stuck with the bill for that scam. How much do you want to bet that the State sticks the local taxpayers with the bill, sooner than later.
And once you're done working for us - thanks, goodbye. No more money for you other than your pension. No more lump sum payments. ZERO. NADA. ZIP.
- NSEA: "Salary. 2012-2013 3.25% inclusive of step... this percentage is less than teachers in ALL surrounding districts have received in recent contracts, less than the last NSEA offer, less than EVERY YEAR in the previous contract."
No guaranteed raises, no automatic step raises. And certainly not a raise that's more than the CPI - recall that we're only able to levy the CPI or 5% - whichever is less (plus new construction, which isn't happening very much now). I think CPI is about 1.5% - so these greedy teachers want more than we're going to take in via property taxes, which means that portions of their salaries will have to come out of reserves. Reserves that we KNOW we need for infrastructure and programming needs.
I don't think we ought to worry about the percentage being less than surrounding districts, that it's less than the last offer, or less than every year in the previous contract. We're talking about OUR District and the current offer on the table.
What they want is fiscally unsustainable - so ummm, NO you can't have a raise. The rest of us have had to contend with pay freezes/cuts, so can they.
- NSEA: Statement about reserves, and administrators.
We're not talking about administrators - yet. Right now we're dealing with the biggest cost center we have - teachers salary/benefits. Once we're done with that, we'll move on to Administrators, so stop trying to deflect and distract the argument.
- NSEA: "...we must maintain a salary schedule that reflects the hard work and effort teachers have put into continuing education courses."
Ummm, no we don't. If their performance based upon fair and achievable metrics targeted toward their individual grade level and course being taught is such, we'll consider them for a raise. And if they have continuing education we'll give them additional weighting toward such consideration.
But no guarantees. Further, all raises should come out of a fixed pool of money set aside for raises - so not everyone considered will get a raise. If they want to take continuing education courses - that's their choice and they should have to do the ROI analysis to determine if it's worth it for them or not.
- NSEA: ...we must Preserve Board contributions toward individual health insurance and provide contributions toward benefits for part time employees."
If memory serves, those contributions are currently 100% for individuals, 75% for families. Let's talk about 20% for individuals, 10% for families. Let's talk about higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and higher drug costs.
Let our contributions for part timers be contingent upon their level of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) from 50% on up. So if they're 50% FTE - give them 50% of the FTE contribution. If they're 75% FTE, give them 75% of the FTE contribution and so on... Anyone under 50% FTE? No contribution.
Just as President Ronald Regan did with the striking air traffic controllers in the '80s: We really need to draw a hard deep line in the sand and just fire anyone who goes on strike. This extortionism of the taxpayer through the weaponization of our children has to stop.
We need to consolidate and update our District's infrastructure, probably re-district along with such consolidation, and to do that we're going to need a flexible workforce. We just don't get that with a restrictive NSEA contract that seeks to limit what we can do with the education of our children, while extracting as much money from the taxpayers for their members as possible. Nor do we have such flexibility when the NSEA eyes our reserves as a piggy bank to be raided for fiscally unsustainable salaries. If we spend down the reserves on salaries, we risk a credit rating that can cost us more money if we go out to borrow funds for infrastructure or consolidation needs.
We all want the best for our kids - we want them to do better than we have - we push them hard to do so. In essence, we value performance. Why should we expect any less from D112 teachers? The Board should stand firm.