Teachers strikes can do real damage, which is probably why 37 states do not allow them.
Unfortunately, Illinois is not among those states. Sometimes our communities must endure these work stoppages, which can change the way community members view teachers, administrators and school board members, creating divisions that can take years to heal.
They also inconvenience parents, especially in households where there is no one home to watch children during the day. Most of all, they penalize children, who miss out on classroom learning in addition to activities such as sports, band, and specialized education programs.
As damaging as a strike can be, a bad teachers’ contract can do even more lasting damage to a school district in the long run.
In DeKalb District 428 schools, teachers have filed notice of intent to strike. The first day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, and negotiations led by a federal mediator are expected to take place in the days ahead.
Property taxpayers in District 428 already have seen their tax rates increase by about a third between 2008 and 2012. That’s partly because the value of property in the district has declined about 17 percent during that time period.
Meanwhile, the State of Illinois is providing only 89 percent of the “foundation level” it is supposed to provide per student.
As a result, District 428 has been deficit spending, with this year’s deficit projected to reach $2.7 million this year, after a $2.3 million deficit in 2012-13.
There have been scant indications that the factors that have pushed the district into deficits will reverse themselves any time soon. District projections say that even under their final offer to teachers, the district will be deficit spending for the next three years.
That is not sustainable, and we see no appetite among DeKalb residents for higher property taxes, or higher rent as a result of them. If the school district grants the more than 400 teachers larger raises to than it can afford, the people hurt most will be students, who will see fewer extracurricular and elective class opportunities.
Teachers themselves would suffer, too. Some would lose their jobs. Those who remained would find themselves teaching larger classes to pick up the slack.
Administrators and school board members, meanwhile, would feel the public anger as they make difficult decisions to balance the budget.
District 428’s teachers have received healthy raises of 5 percent to 6 percent in each of the past five school years, district records show. During that time, the public sector economy has been beset by job losses and wage and benefit cuts.
Now the school district is bleeding red ink – a $21 million construction grant aside – and the district’s request for a one-year salary freeze does not seem unreasonable. In the second and third years of the district’s offer, teachers would receive a 2.12 percent increase for moving up the pay scale, in addition to a 0.75 percent raise in the scale.
The teachers’ final proposal calls for them to receive a 2.12 percent step increase in each of the next three school years, with additional raises in 2014-15 and 2015-16 determined by the consumer price index.
Unlike in 1993, when the DeKalb Classroom Teachers Association went on strike for almost two weeks, the two sides do not seem terribly far apart here. There are other issues at play besides money, of course, but none seem beyond compromise if both sides are determined to reach an agreement.
The school board and the teachers association should be able to agree on a contract that will be fair to teachers, taxpayers, and most of all, students.
A teachers’ strike would represent failure by both sides.