If you’ve read the first two articles in this three-part series (see https://jamescrandell.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/comparing-the-proposals-money/ and https://jamescrandell.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/comparing-the-proposals-language/) on the battle between the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association (HHSTA, the teachers’ union) and the Hinsdale Township High School District school board and you’ve come back for more, then you probably agree that the teachers’ contract proposal is by far more reasonable than the board’s and should be accepted as is.
The teachers’ most recent offer includes very small base salary increases, alters the salary schedule to the board’s advantage, raises teacher contributions to insurance costs, reduces retirement incentives by half, and agrees to the board request for board members to stop having to talk to teachers. The board’s proposal goes much further, almost doubling the time it takes for teachers to earn top salaries (35 versus 19 years), tacking on an insurance surcharge for teachers who are married, creating an inequitable work situation where PE teachers are forced to teach 20% more classes than all other teachers, and controlling what teachers wear to work by restricting their right to display their union affiliation. Were the teachers to accept the board’s contract offer, District 86 would become one of the least attractive high school districts in which to work in the Chicago suburbs. Inevitably, many teachers would leave, and job applicants would grudgingly accept work there only if there were absolutely no jobs anywhere else, keeping their résumés updated so they could bolt as soon as better job opportunities appeared. A proud tradition of excellence decades old would vanish—and it’s already been significantly tarnished.
The board, however, has shown no willingness to compromise, and it’s becoming more obvious that its intent is to force a strike, break the union, push early-to-mid-career teachers out (in its view, “too expensive”), and hire as many inexperienced teachers as possible to keep the payroll down. And their first objective could happen soon after this essay’s publication, on October 14. So, assuming you believe the teachers have conceded as much as they possibly can (as I do) and you don’t want a strike, what can you do?
The first thing, contradictory as it may sound, is to stop publicly lecturing the board majority. Meeting after meeting, the same people lambast them again and again. If your words were powerful enough to make them alter their behavior, don’t you think it would have had some impact by now? I understand your frustration and agree with your points, but these shows do nothing except to give Skoda another chance to show his poor speaking skills and hypocrisy since he always gets the last word. Clearly, it’s not working and you’re only wasting your energy with the same spiel repeated ad nauseam. These public showers of anti-board verbiage don’t help.
Public protests, however, could have some impact. Having hundreds of people come to board meetings to show they support the teachers and want the board to compromise could help to nudge the board toward being more reasonable. No, it’s not as easy as having the same folks blast the board during the public comments section of their meetings and it will take lots of work to get enough people to show up to make it impressive, but it would get many more people involved. It would also help to disprove the board’s contention that the majority of the community supports their vision for the district. Have some chants ready, a few signs, and hundreds of people right in front of the entrance to wherever the meeting is taking place. When the meeting starts, one representative of the group could make a short speech urging the board to accept the teachers’ most recent offer and then hand Skoda a petition with those remarks written out and 500 signatures as all the attendees loudly show their approval for five minutes or so (those chants would be useful here, too). The press will love it, and the video might even go viral. And before all those people leave, you should give them some homework.
While public tongue lashings have proven ineffective, personal contacts might have a much greater impact. Those people at the protest should immediately go home and call individual board members to let them know what they think. If you don’t have the phone numbers of board members, call the superintendent. You could also call the schools’ principals. Having a conversation with people is much more useful than talking at them, and a flood of phone calls will jar the system enough to force administrators to relay the community’s dissatisfaction. I’m not suggesting that these calls should be anything like prank calls; the goal here is to get the board’s attention in ways that are impossible to ignore.
Even emails and good old-fashioned letters via snail mail could help. Public posturing is what Rick Skoda does; people who have a stake in quality schools can use sincere personal communication to make it as clear as they can be that they care about the schools and have no desire to travel down the board’s current road. And, yes, you could send an email to each board member individually instead of the collective one-to-all type (those email addresses can be found at http://hinsdale86.org/sb/BoardMembers/Pages/default.aspx). The more they hear just how out of touch with the community their proposals are, the more likely it will be that one of them will break and join the more reasonable three.
And while we’re talking about those three, it’s time for them to be more vocal in their disagreement with the other four. Skoda has regularly claimed that the board proposals reflect unanimous agreement from the board, that the new majority is not doing anything out of sync with the other three. If that is true, then everybody should gear up for a long, difficult strike. But assuming Mike Kuhn, Kay Gallo, and Jennifer Planson have been trying not to air their disagreements in public and have been working behind the scenes to preserve some semblance of unity on the board, it’s now time for them to break their silence and make it clear that they side with the teachers.
The teachers’ proposal is incredibly reasonable; some would even characterize it as a bad deal for the teachers. Those in favor of maintaining the excellence for which District 86 used to be known need to take a stand now before it’s too late. The three minority board members’ letting everyone know specifically where they stand might help one of the majority see the light and join them to stop this nonsense lest it turn even uglier. It would also buoy up those protesting the board’s direction to know that they do have a voice on this school board. I would encourage anyone who knows the reasonable three to let them know that they wouldn’t be violating some sacred trust to tell the world how fed up they are with the majority’s playing fast and loose with the district’s standing. Their restraint has been admirable, but time is running out and everyone needs to know that the board’s current unreasonable offer has been approved by only a scant 4-3 vote.
Community leaders should also be encouraged to use whatever influence they have to push the board in the right direction. Every village has politicians, business owners, real estate agents, and others who have a stake in maintaining quality schools. And since these people are more likely to share some of the less radical views held by the board majority, their communicating that the majority’s gone too far would go a long way toward getting Corcoran and Casini to move in a more reasonable direction. Everybody, except Skoda with his huge appetite for being at the center of attention regardless of the reason, has much to lose should this get any further out of hand. This group would probably be the hardest to convince to contact the board, but they could also be the most effective in getting the board to move.
Illinois code doesn’t provide for any recall or impeachment of school board members, at least not unless the members have committed some crime. It is also true that charges of incompetency and/or reckless disregard for the welfare of the school district are subjective standards over which there can be significant differences; plus these people were duly elected and have every right to serve their full terms. In the meantime, it’s now clear they intend to push this as far as they can, which means that parents need to brace for a strike if the above methods don’t work. There are a few things to keep in mind should teachers find no alternative but walking a picket line.
First, the schools will not be as safe or of as much educational value as they were with the teachers there. The board is making a big show of recruiting subs at almost three times the regular sub pay ($257 per day versus $95: Ominously, that higher pay is the same the district pays long-term subs, those who are employed for more than 20 days). But even if the schools are open, they will be little more than holding pens for students as the administrators scramble to keep some semblance of order. I do believe safety will be the top priority, although there will be less supervision, not to mention no extra help available, if every body in the building with a sub certification is covering every period of the day. Education, on the other hand, will be completely compromised as there is no way the district will be able to guarantee the sub in your child’s classroom will be certified in the appropriate subject matter. Given the lack of background and inexperience of these subs, there will be little education going on during a strike, except perhaps learning how important the teachers really are.
Therefore, parents should not send their children to school if the teachers aren’t there. Yes, it will be difficult to work out, but this short-term pain is better than the long-term disintegration of the school system should the board prevail in this battle. If there is a strike with more than 60% of the teachers out (and I would bet my house the percentage will be much higher), the schools will not be the best place for your kids.
Next, the pressure on the board to be reasonable and settle should ratchet up significantly. Every parent should spend some time each day both visiting the schools to register displeasure with this situation in person and constantly inundating the board and its administrators with phone calls demanding something be done. Parents could even form teams to make sure these calls for resolution go on all the time, day and night, until this gets resolved. The board seems to be preparing for a long strike and is banking on the teachers folding. It will be important for the community to rally to show a quality school system is much more important to them than the couple of dollars the board is either trying to save them or socking away for building projects.
The public can easily find information to support the truth that the district is in excellent financial shape and counters all the “unsustainable” claims the board makes. Remember that the board is using that term in a very subjective way, hypothesizing about the future in the most negative way and treating school revenues as if they were shares in a mutual fund the school board runs. The surpluses the district has and foresees (all of which can be found right here— http://hinsdale86.org/departments/BusinessOffice/Documents/PMA%20Financial%20Projection%20Model%201-07-14.pdf – a document from the district’s website) goes up significantly every fiscal year, to a peak of $6,652,615 projected in fiscal 2019, which is actually more in one fiscal year than the board has determined is the difference between the teachers’ and the board’s current proposals over a four-year span. Everyone who supports the teachers needs to keep hammering that the board is playing games with how it portrays its financial condition, despite posting documents that completely contradict its propaganda on its own website!
Finally, a strike will also be tough for the teachers. Most of them are not living paycheck to paycheck, so I’m not talking about the temporary loss of wages (although that will be a hardship for them); but teachers invest much more than time in their schools. These people have an intense loyalty to their students and their schools that few seem to appreciate. Schools are about human interaction, and your kids’ teachers have a relationship with their students that can have a valuable impact on them for the rest of their lives. So the teachers will feel guilty for not teaching their classes. There will also be hard feelings about those who do choose to cross picket lines to support the board’s misguided approach. Things won’t be the same for teachers, students, or parents for a long time after any job action has ended. So it’s important for all community members to learn about what’s going on and to assign responsibility for this disaster squarely where it belongs—on any school board members who continue to insist on their draconian proposal at the expense of everything positive that District 86 has represented over the years.
Nobody wins when there is a strike, but we can only hope that this one, if it happens, is short and that future losers are primarily those who supported the board’s approach when the school board elections take place next April. Here’s to the positive outcome of a fair contract for District 86 teachers before a strike takes place.