Hiding In Plain Sight, Or Just Plain Hiding?


A new teachers union contract is supposedly being negotiated over at Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64.  You’d be hard-pressed to prove it, though, given how typically stingy D-64 is with information concerning things that it can’t toot its own horn about.

Given the still-tough economy and the high level of compensation D-64 teachers and administrators already are receiving – last May, the Chicago Sun-Times pegged them as the 25th and 4th highest compensated, respectively, in all of Illinois – you might think that our elected School Board members would want to let the taxpayers know that they are committed to holding the line on compensation and benefits (i.e., pensions), especially with the District having recently identified $20 million+ in high-priority capital “needs.”

But if that’s what you thought, you’d be very wrong.

From what we can tell, the District’s minister of (dis)information, Bernadette Tramm, Supt. Philip Bender and Board president John Heyde are working together to keep the entire teachers negotiation process under a cone of silence.  So not only don’t the taxpayers know how the negotiations are going, we don’t know if those negotiations are even “going” at all. 

Kind of a variation on Brad Pitt’s admonition in “Fight Club”: The first rule of teacher negotiations is, you don’t talk about teacher negotiations. 

During budget talks last July, the District already was anticipating a FY 2011-12 increase of 6.28% in teacher and administrator salaries, totaling approximately $2.46 million; and a 20.71% increase in corresponding benefits, totaling approximately $1 million.  And if we recall the District’s policies and procedures correctly, once the District gets past a certain date (in early March?), its staffing for the next school year is basically locked in.  So if negotiations extend past that date, the District loses the leverage of potential layoffs when bargaining with the teachers union over salary and benefit increases.

All of that might explain the deafening silence on when those negotiations are going to commence.  It might also explain the rumor that District negotiators Heyde and private-sector union attorney/Board member Pat Fioretto don’t want any other Board members looking over their shoulders.

If you’re trying to hide in plain sight, you don’t want anybody looking too closely.

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

I know you’re not happy with district test scores but I think the teachers here do a pretty darn good job.

I feel like high-profile groups like the CTU in Chicago give teachers a bad name, when in reality many of its members (and teachers everywhere) do in fact put students learning over their own self-interests.

I’m all for compensating ours for doing what I think is an extremely difficult and underappreciated job. After all, where would you — and many of us — be today without the guidance of some good teachers along the way?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Are you “happy with district test scores”? By what measure(s) are they deserving of the 25th highest teachers’ salaries and the 4th highest administrator salaries in the state? And by what measures are they doing “a pretty darn good job”?

Teachers can’t be fired for “performance,” their compensation isn’t based on “performance,” their jobs can’t be outsourced to foreign countries, and their “work year” is approximately 8 months – what exactly what is so “extremely difficult and underappreciated” about that?

There are hundreds/thousands of factors that make people what they are, but We’ll take good parents over good teachers any day.

The cool part is that as the economy heats up, all of you Tea Party windsocks will evaporate into nostalgia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Tea Party windsocks”? Is that the flip side of “soft-headed Liberals”?

Dear Anon 02.04.12 7:43 am: You’re entitled to your opinion and I won’t question it. I’m sure the teachers do a good job.

The question here is not whether they’re doing a good job, but whether we should increase their pay. I would vote “no”.

We should ask the District and our elected Board members if we are talking about lane-step (ie automatic pay raises) or a one-time increase over and above the lane step program.

Just got my property tax bill, which is the highest-ever First Installment, thanks to the whopping increase from 2010 Property Taxes driven by the school districts. It’s time for teachers to enjoy their 25th highest salaries and not push for more. As well, the administrators need to come down from #4. The teachers can do an even better job without them.

I am very happy with test scores, which is one indicator of teacher performance. More importantly my kids (including one with significant special needs) are learning what they are supposed to learn and are continuing to grow as engaged and curious learners.

And if you agree that teachers are doing a good job, why should we not increase their pay? In the private sector we expect our work performance to be compensated with increased pay. On the flip side, we also penalize those who aren’t doing a good job and I absolutely think there can and should be a way to do that in the teaching profession as well. (Although I know from experience in the private sector that it’s really not easy to let go of incompetent employees. The process can be a long and arduous one.)

I’d also take issue with teachers’ “short” work year. Many teachers, including some I know in district 64, take other jobs in the summers to augment their incomes. Not to mention put in countless extra hours before and after official school hours and at home, and often pay out of their own pockets for supplies and materials.

Lastly, of course parents are also an important factor. But in my case, as with many families, teachers can reach the kids in different ways and on different levels than parents alone can. After all, wasn’t it one of our town’s own who said “It takes a village?”

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Continuing to grow as engaged and curious learners” sounds warm and fuzzy enough to be a mission statement.

We’d love to see teachers paid for performance, along the lines of what Michelle Rhee proposed while chancellor of the Washington DC school system. Too bad the teachers union prefers payment by seniority and hours toward higher degrees. Wonder why?

“I know from experience in the private sector that it’s really not easy to let go of incompetent employees.” In an employment-at-will state like Illinois, that’s a sign of incompetent management.

Finally, the reason teachers can take other jobs in the summers is because they’ve got summers off! – to go with their Christmas vacation, Spring Break, and every holiday known to man.

But if you’re very happy with the test scores and everything else at D-64, we’re happy for you.

I don’t think liberals or conservatives really are all that different when it comes to educating their own kids. The question comes down to who / how it is paid for. I think that since we do not know how negotiations are proceeding, we really are in the dark.

I think in this difficult economy and the continued downward pressures on house prices, both sides are going to have to make concessions. It could be freeze salaries on both teachers and administrators. It could be shift some of the health benefit costs from the District to each individual. There are a whole host of items that probably are under negotiations.

I do like all of the teachers that my kids have had in the district, and I am sure there are ones that they have not had that are not as good; or at other schools in the district that are not as good. Fortunately for the teachers they have a strong union.

The blogger has always been critical of the test results of the district. I happen to disagree and think that the kids get a much more rounded and balanced education. That being said, I would rather the district freeze all increases for one year (or more) because it is better to deal with the multiple year budget issues via a freeze as opposed to a layoff in the future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are focused on test scores because, to our knowledge, they are the only objective ways of measuring student achievement intra-district and inter-district. Which is, as we understand it, why Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas and other education reform advocates focus on them.

I’ve enjoyed this blog for its insights and thoughtful perspectives but I am tired of being attacked almost every time I express an opinion, this time for expressing complimentary views for the largely hard-working people who are educating by kids. And also for the implication that I was an incompetent manager.

I’m all for debate and discussion — and I typically think of myself as fairly thick skinned — but these glib put downs have gotten to be too much for this reader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You, dear reader, aren’t being attacked – your opinions are. And if you really were “fairly thick skinned,” you’d realize that.

This country is filled with “largely hard-working people,” most of whom lack the good fortune of educating your kids and, therefore, don’t enjoy anywhere near the benefits you wish to blindly, and unaccountably, confer on teachers based on no performance standards save for your own subjective opinion. THAT’s the kind of mindless governance that has put our community in a financial hole, this state on the verge of bankruptcy, and this country $15 trillion in debt with no realistic hope of bailing itself out.

And, yes, if you can’t get rid of incompetent non-unionized workers in the private sector with this state’s employment-at-will laws, then you ARE an “incompetent manager.” We apologize for merely implying it.

Reading some of these comments about teachers reminds me of the studies which find that people hate Congress but like their own Congressman.

Teachers unions have been extraordinarily good at public relations, starting with that “for the kids” campaign years ago. If it wasn’t for the recession and the honest and critical looks people are finally starting to give all these things that they just ignored before, we would not be even having these discussions.

Teachers’ unions are indeed powerful and can at times be responsible for blocking real reform. Education is in serious trouble here in the US.

But thankfully district 64/207 schools are doing pretty well in comparison to the rest of the country — which I judge both objectively an, admittedly, subjectively as well (how can you not be subjective when it comes to your kids’ well being?).

That’s why I don’t begrudge them their compensation. We need to continue to attract competent teachers to the district (not to mention to the profession as a whole). Administrators are a different story.

I’m sorry but teachers unions are not responsible for the fiscal mess we are in, any more than I am an incompetent manager for following proper channels when terminating underperforming employees.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t mix D-64 with D-207, specifically Maine South. MS continually rates among the top 20 public high schools in Illinois based on test scores, D-64 is lucky if even one of its schools lands in the top 50. Top 25 pay for not even top 50 performance.

Teachers unions fund many of the politicians who have created the mess in this state. So, yes, they are “responsible” for that mess, even more so than the rest of us who vote for those politicians year after year are “responsible” for it.

d64 is awful!!! this is our 3rd school system and my kids were old enough to see the difference in the quality of teachers and curriculum. fire them all starting with bender. he brings nothing to the table. the tail wags the dog here-unlike the other systems we were in. the quality of education is abominable. people would n’t know unless they’ve been to other schools or other bad schools but i didn’t know i how lucky we were previously. my son now has the absolute laziest dingbat teacher and he is completely disengaged. i would love to send him to private but our taxes are so high we can’t afford both. when did teachers become saints? give me a break. i had some really bad teachers and few good teachers but to allow pay increases regardless of merit is just incentive for mediocrity at best…and that’s exactly what we get here!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Whether D-64 is “awful” or not, we won’t judge. But when teacher and administrator compensation is so disproportionate to measurable achievement, that seems like a problem to us. So does across-the-board, non-merit based compensation.

Teachers became “saints” when the teachers unions happily discovered that a signficant segment of the public was willing to buy into the slogan “it’s for the kids” without question and without requiring objectively provable results.

9:43, I’d be curious to know which other school districts you’ve experienced. I’d agree that d64 has some “dingbat” teachers, but so does every other district, and profession for that matter.

In any case, we moved from one of the state’s top performing elementary schools two years ago. The pressure to continue to keep up those test scores was relentless, permeating the entire culture of the school, and turned it into a pressure cooker of sorts that I found to be increasingly unhealthy for my kids.

For example, every year the kindergarten teacher would tutor a group of “at risk” (their definition) boys. I would look at those 5 and 6 year olds and think the last place they should be after school is in a cafeteria doing more work while other kids their age got to hang out on the playground and eat ice cream.

Settling for less than the best even applied to extracurricular activities. My sons, who had enjoyed chess from a very young age, were key players on the chess team and grew to dread it. My 10-year-old finally played this winter for the first time in over a year and told me he had forgotten how much fun it could be.

I think that’s one reason why I’m happy with d64. My kids just don’t feel that same level of pressure to perform and are happier than they ever have been, because they finally are allowed to be just kids.

Which leads me to district 207 and Maine South. With a good portion of the students, if not the majority, feeding in from d64, they must be doing something right that the test scores just don’t reflect.

EDITOR’S NOTE: D-64 “must be doing something right that the test scores just don’t reflect”? Or maybe Maine South is doing enough to overcome the deficits it inherits from D-64? Or maybe Maine South’s performance is enhanced by the kids who feed in from the parochial grammar schools?

We don’t know what district you moved from but if a less demanding, lower achievement school system is what you want, you found it. But, anecdotally, we don’t get the sense that’s what the taxpayers of this community want to pay the 25th highest teacher salaries and the 4th highest administrator salaries for.

I’m glad there is a lot of discussion here; it means people are paying attention. Just to keep us on track, though, the central question put forth in the blog post above is: “What’s going on?” Is the district negotiating with teachers? Do the board members know about it? Shouldn’t the public?

Someone, responding to my earlier contention that we should not raise teachers’ salaries, asked “If you agree that teachers are doing a good job, why should we not increase their pay?” The answer is that we are already paying them very, very well. They rank 25th in teacher pay among Illinois school districts (and administrators rank 4th). In a tough economic climate when property taxes continue to rise, we have to say “enough is enough”. For those who haven’t been paying attention, teachers already get automatic pay increases under the guise of “lane step”. If you don’t know what that is, call a school board member and see if they know. Perhaps the answer is not simply to stop a new pay increase, but to end lane step entirely.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Goodness, FWT, stop automatic raises tied to course credits earned by teachers toward a Ph.D. in order to teach 4th grade? Are you mad?!?!

For what it’s worth, I have talked to Ken Wallace, supt. of District 207, about Maine South’s performance and how much can be attributed to the D64 students that feed into it.

Without getting into specifics, although they do have data to back it up, he views D64 as high performing. The majority of Maine South’s students do come from D64 and do not require the remediation the district’s other two high schools are faced with to get their incoming students’ performances up to par.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That kind of anecdotal “evidence” is exactly why so many education reformers choose to focus on objective test results – and why the teachers unions have little good to say about those results.

That D-64 students “do not require the remediation the district’s other two high schools are faced with” is pretty much damning with faint praise, given the socio-economic level of the students in the elementary schools that feed Maine East and Maine West.

I’m well aware that Maine South and Maine East have issues that Maine South doesn’t because their student populations face far more obstacles.

My point was that Maine South is one of the state’s top performing schools and the majority of its students come from D64 — and those students are able to transition into the high achieving, college prep environment apparently fairly seamlessly.

So as I said earlier, I have to believe D64 must be doing something right.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Blind faith can be a wonderful thing. Too bad all it seems to need is “something right” for the kids of D-64, instead of “most things right,” or “everything right.”

Administrators are way overpaid; Sally Prior was a travesty whose only skill was sucking up and obfuscating. I like the new guys, especially Ken Wallace at 207, but administrators do not need raises as much as their employers — that would be us — need a few bucks left after we pay our hellacious tax bills, of which a great majority go to the schools. Teachers should probably not get raises this year given the economy and the Upton Sinclair (The Jungle)work world the taxpayers face nowadays. But as soon as the economy improves, great teachers should get raises. And research and common sense agree: There is NO correlation between seniority and performance, or between higher degrees and performance. We absolutely must find an accurate way to assess teacher quality, and it’s up to those who object to test scores as the only criteria to find alternatives. The system as it is will never do so. Why should they? It’s far easier to sit in your classroom (i.e. seniority) or sit in another classroom (i.e. attain a higher degree) than it is to really engage with the kids. Only the gifted teachers get it right. You cannot fake it. So here’s a heretical thought. Let’s let the kids and the parents weigh in! For starters, stop that insulting requirement in 64 that you can tell the system about your kids’ particular needs and request a particular kind of approach to to teaching him/her, but don’t — don’t, don’t! — presume to ask to have a particular teacher or not to have a particular teacher based on other parents’ experience, other kids’ experience, or your own older kids’ experience. That might, after all, give you some actionable data!

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