Comparing the Proposals: Language

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Last time, we took a look at the financial aspects of the contract proposals from Hinsdale Township High School District 86 and the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association (HHSTA), the school board and the teachers union (see https://jamescrandell.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/comparing-the-proposals-money/).  This contentious negotiations seems headed for a showdown in October.

I also warned you last time to be careful when listening to somebody who is clearly biased in favor of one side, in my case the teachers. (I was a teacher and union activist for twenty-five years at Hinsdale South.)  While it certainly wasn’t my intent, it will surprise no psychologist that when I screwed up, my mistake made the school board’s proposal look worse than it actually is.  I misread the explanation on-line (you can find both proposals at http://www2.illinois.gov/elrb/Pages/FinalOffers.aspx) about the spousal surcharge the board is proposing for married employees on the district’s insurance.  The $100-200 extra charge for spouses proposed was included in the $418 per month (which according to my extremely reliable source is actually $437.22); whereas I said it was on top of the $418 ($437).  I do regret and apologize for the inaccuracy.  I will try to do better going forward.

Then there are areas of difference in the proposals themselves.  The board’s reporting of the dollar increase in single insurance coverage for teachers is way off—the $218 monthly charge (as reported in my comparison) is roughly $100 too high according to my sources.  The general information—that teachers will pay more for insurance all four years of both proposals—is accurate, but how much more teachers will actually pay is different in the two proposals.  My source did find all the salary numbers in my article to be accurate, fortunately.

What we found in the rest of the financial portion of the board’s proposal comes largely from the new board majority, mostly elected in 2013 and composed of Rick Skoda, Ed Corcoran, Claudia Manley, and Victor Casini.  They are pushing for significant changes in teacher salaries by increasing the number of steps (increases based on experience) on the salary schedule from 19 to 35, almost doubling the time it would take a teacher to reach the highest pay rate.  The HHSTA has already moved toward the board position, including those hikes in insurance payments from teachers, a base salary which would increase at less than the rate of inflation, and a salary schedule that would shrink by a lane and some steps.  In short, from the teachers’ perspective, the board is insisting on huge, negative (from teachers’ perspectives) changes in this contract after the HHSTA has already made major concessions.

But there are also non-monetary issues in the proposals.  Typically, these are relatively minor things that impact few teachers and are primarily union issues.  Those kinds of issues, however, have already been tentatively agreed to by both sides; yet the board still has demands that have caused more controversy.

The most divisive issue the board has put forth is increasing the teaching load for Physical Education teachers.  Currently, all teachers employed by District 86 are assigned five teaching periods each day, with two periods for preparation, but the board’s proposal increases that to six and one for PE teachers.  The board offers no rationale in its published proposal for this change, but you can imagine how it is being viewed by teachers, especially those in the PE departments of the two schools.

We can only speculate on why, but obviously the board believes PE teachers don’t need as much preparation time as all other teachers.  But, preparing lessons, keeping track of student progress, contacting parents, learning new techniques and technology, and virtually every other task other teachers do are required of those who teach PE.  Yes, PE teachers do give tests and have papers to grade, especially if they teach health classes.  The stereotype of someone who just rolls out the ball and ignores the students to prepare for more important coaching responsibilities has never been true in District 86, so one can only assume that the board is basing its proposal on its disdain for physical education or its lack of interest in the well-being of its students.  It’s simply not true that PE teachers don’t work as hard or have as much to do as other teachers, and I witnessed that every day during my thirty-three years in education.

There has been anti-PE teacher talk coming from a few disgruntled individuals for years, but it’s amazing the board would make this kind of acrimonious, demeaning proposal.  Even if it isn’t included in the final version of the new contract—and you can be pretty sure District 86 will have a strike before it is—this sends a clear message to the 40+ physical education teachers in the district:  “We, the school board, believe that you have been underworked and overpaid for as long as you’ve taught only five periods, which is the entirety of your career so far in District 86.  We now demand that you teach 20% more classes than your peers—who will no longer be your peers, but will now assume their rightful places as your superiors.”  What will come next—a clause requiring all PE teachers to refund 20% (plus interest, of course) of their past salaries for all the years they taught only five classes?

But the board has another interesting item in its proposal as well, a dress code.  Although “business casual” is the standard required by this proposed contract clause, a full reading of the language makes the real goal obvious:  “…a uniform dress code…which further prohibits the wearing of HHSTA or Association shirts, buttons or other insignia when students are present during paid working hours.”  (Yes, that underlining is in the board’s proposal, and it is the ONLY sentence in the article underlined.) The union the teachers belong to and support is what the board is really trying to censor, not the dreaded holey jeans, evil spaghetti straps, or satanic flip flops also mentioned in the clause.  Basically, the board is proposing a tougher dress code for the teachers than is required of the students, whose political views—if that’s what wearing a t-shirt is—have never been censored, not to mention their having flip-flop freedom.

Not only is this a violation of the first amendment’s free speech protection, but it’s borderline illegal according to Illinois labor laws.  Ironically, too, this kind of repression typically strengthens whatever is targeted; my guess is that pro-HHSTA/union sentiment has never been higher with staff members than it is right now.  I’m sure most teachers are planning to get HHSTA tats on one of their four cheeks even as you’re reading this—well…okay, probably not.

The board also proposed to do away with monthly meetings with the HHSTA.  The teachers agreed to this, probably since talks with this group have been anything but productive, but it does speak loudly to the top-down management style favored by this board.  Nothing, including who likes what on Facebook, is too small or petty for them to scrutinize, but they don’t want to talk to their teachers.  While most will see this as an insignificant deletion, I find it revealing about the mind set of these board members:  Any interactions with or reminders (like t-shirts) of the teachers’ association are irksome and to be removed.  Why on Earth would a body elected to oversee the operations of a system with hundreds of employees and expenses over $85,000,000 per year need to sit down with the people teaching the kids?  And what does it say about what’s going on in District 86 when the board entrusted with making sure the schools run well and the teachers who run the schools can’t commit in writing to speaking with each other?  Kafka would love it.

What’s really needed and what any arbitrator or mediator should request and/or require in the new contract is some training for ALL parties on how to listen to others, to recognize the necessity for compromise, and to continue to exchange ideas/talk to one another even when there is disagreement over how things should be.

The teachers have clearly stood in the board members’ shoes and based their proposal around the board’s need to show it can control expenses: The small increases proposed are all well within budgeting projections the board has made for the district’s revenues.  The teachers have given much in the way of insurance cost contributions as well.  Now, the board needs to climb into the teachers’ skin and walk around in it to see things from their perspective.  (Ah, Atticus, is there any situation for which you didn’t have an apt metaphor?)

It’s one thing to gain an advantage in a contract negotiations, but it is totally another to try to eviscerate the other side.  If the board gets everything it wants, the HHSTA will be in tatters with teachers completely demoralized.  Then, the flight from District 86 witnessed thus far will seem like a trickle compared to the future flood of escaping teachers.  And these job seekers will have District 86’s reputation of before this school board took over on their resumes.

They also won’t have to worry about the biggest concern most school districts have about an experienced teacher leaving another district:  Why would you leave a secure job?  Once other human resource people see Hinsdale 86 as the most recent work experience, they’ll understand the answer teachers would give to that question:  “Our school board severely undermined my earning power and rights compared to your more enlightened district.  Your kids are just as deserving of my talents as they were back in 86; maybe more deserving since your community will respect and value my work.”  Soon, Hinsdale 86 could become the place where first-year teachers go for a couple of years before leaving to find a better district.  Believe it or not, there are those who believe this is the overall strategy of the current board majority whose obsession with control and costs has blinded it to the need for experienced, albeit more expensive and independent, teachers.

One final issue needs addressing.  In the board’s summation of its expenses based on the teachers’ and the board’s proposals, it adds an interesting item:  “Student Enrichment.”  Apparently, student enrichment hasn’t been going on in District 86 ever, but with the board’s proposal, some $2.8 million would be available for whatever the heck this would be.  Now, that’s all well and propaganda good, but what reveals the slimy nature of the board’s manipulation here is that it then makes another chart based on the expenses of the HHSTA’s proposal, leaving the student enrichment row empty, as if the teachers were refusing to permit any expenditures for this noble but unspecified cause.

And if that weren’t misleading enough, the board had this empty row circled in red to call attention to the callous nature of those greedy teachers who are robbing the poor students of unnamed enrichment activities. So let’s be clear:  No teachers’ union has ever been able to negotiate any dollar allocations on a board’s expenditure list except the legally required “terms and conditions of employment.”  To imply the HHSTA has no interest in student enrichment moves from the level of sneaky tricks to flat out lying.  Whoever put that into the proposal should be ashamed for stooping so low.

From top to bottom, the board’s proposal reeks of its desire to defeat the teachers’ union and crush any opposition without the slightest compromise whatsoever.  This isn’t a proposal so much as a declaration of war.  Sadly for the residents of District 86, that war will soon go hot, and the strike that follows will leave permanent scars on what was once an excellent school district.  I just don’t see any way the teachers will ever accept the board’s proposal as it currently stands.  The language area in particular has items for which there’s no compromise—either PE teachers teach five or six periods, and either there is a dress code or there isn’t—there’s not a ton of give in those positions.

The only thing left for the communities impacted by this impending disaster is to figure out how to help the board make better decisions that would avert a teachers’ strike.  We’ll take a look at those ideas next time.

For more on healthy confrontation and resolving differences without destroying the other side, see James Crandell’s eBook, Snowflake Schools, excerpts of which can be found http://www.snowflake-schools.com/snowflake-schools-the-book.html.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Comparing the Proposals: What to Do? |

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