Cue The “Injuns”


Back in the day when Westerns were all the rage on both the big screen and the small, it became almost a cliché to see a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire at night in the middle of nowhere when one of them would remark “It sure is quiet” – to which another would respond “Yeah, too quiet.” 

And then, almost immediately, that quiet would be shattered by a bunch of whooping “injuns” galloping in with arrows flying, or firing rifles purchased – often along with some “firewater” – from unscrupulous “white” traders. 

For some reason we find that old cliche a fitting metaphor for the dead silence surrounding the ongoing Park Ridge–Niles Elementary School District 64 teacher negotiations, with nary a whisper emerging about what kind of deal is being cut. 

From our observations of public sector union negotiations over the past couple of decades, any “too quiet” situation bodes ill for taxpayers.  That’s especially true with the scheduled commencement of the school year rapidly approaching and the prospects of a strike becoming more frightening by the day to those parents for whom the D-64 schools serve double duty as both education and day-care.  That invites manufactured “crises” giving rise to rushes to judgment that always involve throwing more money at the teachers. 

We’re not ready to cue the injuns just yet, but we also have no reason to believe that the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), the teachers union, is asking for anything less than the moon – especially in view of the recent report from D-64 that it is anticipating 2.5% lower expenses this coming year, thereby arguably freeing up some additional cash for teacher raises and/or benefits.

We don’t know if that 2.5% in any way reflects a reduction in D-64’s Uptown TIF-related payment that we hear the City is going to try to negotiate because of continued dismal revenues from that financial white elephant, but that’s another variable that the D-64 negotiating team better be keeping in mind, along with the $14 million D-64 says it needs for immediate capital expenditures that are projected to eventually total $23 million, all-in.

We also hear that there was an acknowledgement at last night’s D-64 Board meeting that the rosy expense projection may already be history.  At any rate, that projection never factored in any of the increases in compensation for teachers, teachers aids, administrative staff or custodians that seem to be inevitable whenever the District and the PREA “negotiate” – as they are scheduled to do tonight.

And the Board is holding a closed-session “retreat” at Emerson School this Friday night – to engage in one of the many exceptions to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(16): “Self evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics, when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.” 

The irony of their discussing surrender (to PREA) at a retreat – perhaps under the “practices and procedures” of submission – is almost too delicious…in a perverse way, of course.     

And let’s not forget skeevy Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s recent proposal to dump a good-sized chunk of the teachers’ pension funding into the laps of the local districts.  Frankly, that may be the most intelligent and fiscally responsible thing Madigan has proposed in his 30+ years as speaker – assuming it’s not just some cynical political ploy – because local school boards have been borderline criminally irresponsible in jacking-up, and then “spiking,” teacher and administrator salary to boost pensions, seemingly without regard for the consequences because those pensions are administered on a state-wide basis.

If the D-64 Board actually cared about the taxpayers and the long-term fiscal health of the District, the mere threat by Madigan of such a substantial expense being kicked back to local districts should be a major constraint on any raises.  But we’re talking about the same crew that has helped give this District the 4th highest-paid administrators and 25th highest-paid teachers in the state, so the only question about the current teacher negotiations would appear to be: “How much?”

We’ve previously expressed our strenuous opposition to any and all public-sector labor negotiations conducted in secret.  That opposition becomes even more strenuous when D-64’s lead negotiators are board president John Heyde and member Pat Fioretto.  Per our Western metaphor for the D-64/PREA negotiations, if the taxpayers need a John Wayne (think “Jake Cutter” in “The Comancheros”) standing tall and shooting it out, in Heyde and Fioretto they get the equivalent of chuckwagon cooks (think “Wishbone” and “Mushy” from “Rawhide”), slingin’ hash instead of flingin’ lead. 

Now we’re down to only 2 weeks until the first day of school, and the silence surrounding a new teachers contract is almost deafening. 

Okay, it’s time: Cue the injuns!

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