Speaking Truth To Power


Recently we had some kind words for the District 207 teachers when it sounded as if they were going to hold the District to its contract but kick back enough of their pay increases to save the jobs of their non-tenured teachers union members who were otherwise going to be chopped to help the District fill the gaping $19 million budget hole for the coming year.

Well, the teachers union sure fooled us.

Wednesday night at Maine East High School, union brotherhood/sisterhood went the way of common sense, fiscal responsibility and basic altruism, as union officials and tenured teachers demanded that the District draw down its reserve fund in order to keep everybody – except the taxpayers – fully employed, properly enriched and reasonably happy. 

In the process, the teachers union and its supporters appear to have callously exploited their well-meaning but naïve students, who we understand were “encouraged” to attend the meeting and voice their opposition to the District’s belated recognition of fiscal reality.  After all, it’s common knowledge that weeping teenagers are even better than puppies and kittens for tugging at heartstrings and interfering with clear-headed thinking.

Just because the union and its backers were shameless, however, doesn’t mean that that the District’s board didn’t show it could be spineless.

To the contrary, Board president Ed Mueller sounded like a typical politician when he seemingly blamed every external force except the Haitian earthquake for the District’s deficit, while making sure that not a hint of blame or accountability fell on him or his board.  Amazingly enough, after blaming tax caps for contributing to the District’s revenue shortfalls, Mueller bizarrely announced that the board has ruled out any referendum to exceed the tax caps – a position supported by Supt. Ken Wallace, who said it would “not be responsible” to ask the taxpayers to vote to bail out the district.

In other words, folks, what they’re telling us is that, if not for those darn tax caps, they could have gone ahead and raised our taxes to fill the budget hole without having to get our permission via referendum and without having to cut anything. 

That sounds like Exhibit A to the case for why we need tax caps!

But if revenues really are such a problem, why not at least ask the voters if they want to lift the caps to send more bucks to District 207 – before it turns into a real crisis, like the one District 64’s board caused during the first half of the last decade, when it foolishly refused to go to referendum until its finances were so shaky that the State Board of Education was reportedly considering taking over their management? 

Are Mueller and Wallace afraid a huge “no” vote might seem too much like a referendum on the board’s stewardship of District 207?  Is the teachers union afraid such a vote might be perceived as an indictment of the teachers’ greed?  Or are both sides afraid that such a vote might make it more difficult for them to tap into those District 207 reserves, which we’re still betting will end up being the dirty little deal that gets done before the final curtain falls on this particular drama.

One voice of reason did stand out above the grumbling and caterwauling, however.  Mike Bender, a Maine East teacher and softball coach who is on the chopping block, publicly asked his union to reopen negotiations with the District.  

We know virtually nothing about Mr. Bender, but he gets a Watchdog bark-out for having the courage to make such a request, albeit self-serving, in what he had to know was a hostile forum.  Not surprisingly, his request was openly mocked by his union brethren (and sistren?), who already had shown that they have no reservations about “playing chicken” with the District over the jobs of non-tenured teachers like Bender, or the long-term financial soundness of the District.  

Bender will be lucky if mockery is the only consequence of his speaking truth to power.  That’s because when it comes to our public schools, the teachers unions hold all the power.  And when it comes to their wallets, they have no use for truth.  

10 comments so far

As stated by many…I agree the union members should be willing to fore-go 1% of their 3% salary *increase*, in order to assist in the retention of their fellow teachers and to assist the entire district in filling some of the budget gap.

What I have not heard addressed is, beyond the level of union membership…the administrative level of the district, specifically…what amount of “give back” or salary reductions…wage freezes, furloughs, etc. have the non-union administrators agreed to? Do I understand correctly that those in the administration…principles, deans, etc…are not part of the union?

As for going to referendum…I completely understand the idea that the district should not engage in irresponsible crisis creation, then stampede the worried property owners/voters to a “yes” vote. However, as someone experiencing the economic down-turn up-close and personally, I’m grateful at least [this] public body is choosing (at this point in time) not to ask for more of my money.

Bean, go to the cook county treasurer’s website and check out your new tax bill due March 2nd. They went up handsomely. Just pay it and shut up!!!

Because they don’t ask for more money, they just take it! They only ask for LOTS of money and then use it to hire administrators and diabetic nurses.

Actually 5:19, the reason for the bigger payment is because the state govt voted to make the first payment 55% of the total tax instead of the usual 50% they always did before. Technically this means that the taxes haven’t gone up but I think we all know that this smells dirty and they’ll probably just raise the taxes enough to make the next payment around the same or a little lower… This is just sickening… Great wait to hit people in the pocketbook… The idiots didn’t have the numbers in time for the normal october due date and waited until december, so now people got socked with this bill in December and have another whopper 2 months later… We basically work for the government now…

There is a problem we all know it. What I am sick of is the finger pointing and blame game.
What needs to be done is immediate action. If the School District offered suggestions to keep the teachers and the union is not willing to negotiate. Bottom line something still needs to happen.

Maine Township District 207 has had the need to dip into the reserves over the last two years. They do not have to wait for a declaration before doing so.

$19 million dollar deficet this year will come out of the 86 million dollar reserve fund. How many years before the reserve fund runs dry?

If the State of Illinois is late paying the money that comes via our tax bills, they don’t have to borrow money to make payroll to the teachers.

The reserve fund is their insurance policy for major capital expense such as a roof at Maine East. How many citizens realize that a new roof at Maine East could cost up to 6 million dollars? When we are talking about large institional buildings such as our High Schools the cost to maintain those buildings is very high.

I personally am happy that the school district is not coming to the tax payers asking for a referundum to raise our taxes. The last thing I want to see happen is that my taxes are raised because a teacher making over 100K is unwilling to help out.

A roof replacement is part of any normal budget. Reserves are placed just for roof replacements over a 20 or 30 year term.

3:13 pm

You’re wrong about the “blame game.” It needs to be played every time something goes wrong so that we can figure out who is responsible and get rid of them.

If in the case of Dist. 207 its the teachers union that is being unreasonable, then it’s up to us to support the school board and demand that they hold the line against more teacher raises and increased benefits. If it’s the school board that can’t manage, then vote them out of office.

THis namby pamby don’t blame anybody stuff isn’t cutting it. Enough is enough.

Does anyone know the date by which we must file petitions for the next referendum opportunity to roll back property taxes? As Hon. Howard Frimark always reminded us, 3/4 of your property tax bill is for the schools. The time we spend haranguing the city council is well worth it, but we give practically a free pass to the school board, administration and unionized employees. As I recall they gushed about “karma” a year or so ago. What goes around comes around. When can we speak up? Anyone know?

You can start by speaking up right here!! Tell me about your plan to roll back taxes. How much would you like to roll them back and what services that are currently paid for by our tax dollars would you like to reduce or completely get rid of?? How do you plan to deal with all of the unions that are involved? If you want a tax roll back referendum you must have a plan, right??

I guess I am seeing the actions of the administration a little differently. What I see is that they wish to take actions NOW to avoid having to take much more drastic actions later. I fully support any effort for them to hold the line on spending now, and find it almost indefensible that the teachers wouldn’t forego a portion of their increase to save the jobs of 55 teachers. I think Dr. Wallace, et. al. view going to referendum as a drastic action, a last resort of sorts. Are you suggesting that they should go to referendum, Public Watchdog? I am not sure I am understanding, but I can tell you that if Dr. Wallace stood before the public and suggested going to referendum, I would think he was a fool because a referendum at this time would NEVER fly. And he is far from a fool. I don’t really know who would support a tax increase at this time, especially when other options are available. I think the administration of D207 is trying hard to act responsibly, and the teachers are not helping them do so. And the students are getting a civic lesson of sorts, but I think someone ought to tell them that what the union is doing (as someone put it on PRU) is “eating their young.”

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