Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day!

If I had been a truly coordinated working mother, I would have realized before today that I would have the privilege of posting on Election Day and saved my post about the weary working mother and midterm elections for today. But I’m not that coordinated and didn’t figure that out until just now. So I’ve already exhausted the most relevant topic and am faced with the impossible task of following Mandi’s gut wrenching tale of emergency room horrors. Dear readers, please set your expectations low.

Today’s election isn’t really a big deal in my house. Overall, I don’t care very much about midterm elections. I understand that they are an important part of the political process and that the results of the election will shift the balance of power and shape the future of our country, blah, blah, blah. But on an everyday scale, I’m right there with the weary working mother: I want things to change, but don’t believe any of the candidates can actually effectuate that change. Every time I think there is a viable candidate that I *might* actually be able to get behind, I learn something about the candidate or his or her platform that leaves me unable to offer my full support and pushes me back into voter apathy.

The main thing I care about this election is a referendum for the local school district. The school district is asking voters to agree to raise their property taxes to help cover an approximately $3 million deficit in the school budget. And I’m itching to go vote no.

Much of my local school district’s budget problem is the result poor negotiations with the local teacher’s union. Years ago, the district (once one of the best in the state) entered into a contract it couldn’t afford with the teachers in order to avoid a strike. That contract called for increased salaries, guaranteed raises and pensions the district simply could not afford. A bunch of educators should not be surprised that the result was a deficit.

The school district has done everything in its power to try to honor its contract with the union. It closed a school. Cut all kinds of language and art programs. It even instituted a pay-to-play (dangerous words in Illinois) program for sports and music. It was only as a last resort last fall that they asked the teachers to take a pay cut and save the job of their colleagues (and the programs for the kids). And that’s where the true side of our local teachers shone through. Those very same people who are out on the streets politicking today telling us to vote yes “for the kids” are the very same people who were unwilling to take a pay cut “for the kids” three months ago.

I’m sure any teacher reading this right now is screaming out in protest. Teachers are already underpaid! And they bear so much responsibility for our children! The future is in their hands, we should value that and pay them accordingly. Sounds familiar right? The plight of the teacher is repeated often and loudly. But I’m calling b.s.

The teachers in my local school district aren’t suffering any “plight.” They are some of the highest paid teachers in the state, often making over six figures. Heck, it was published in our local paper that the local kindergarten teachers make $60,000. Kindergarten is half day, people. On top of adequate salaries, the teachers enjoy guaranteed raises, pensions upon retirement, job security (in the form of tenure), “planning periods” and 100 days off per year. Tell me any other profession that offers these perks. There isn’t one.

The truth is, teachers have it made. No amount of whining about having to grade papers or monitor recess will convince me otherwise. I drag home a laptop and work for hours each night, and this work takes me away from my family – same as grading homework takes away from a teacher’s family. And handling the squabbles of school kids isn’t any different than handling clients: both usually involve negotiating a solution between stubborn people with unreasonable positions. When you get right down to it, our jobs really aren’t all that different – except teachers get a boat load of time off and go home at 4 pm.

The recent (current?) recession has hit my community hard. Many people have taken pay cuts, been forced to take furrow days or lost their jobs all together. The number of foreclosures is astounding. And yet, while families in our community struggle, the teachers – people who claim to be dedicated to helping our children – are demanding more money for themselves.

I think we owe it to our community to stand up for what’s right. The answer to our school district’s problem isn’t a lack of money, it’s a failure to use money wisely. And if our teachers can’t understand that paying pensions and ensuring job security isn’t the best use of a limited pool of money, then maybe the problem is the teachers. We need to be an example of fiscal responsibility, and if that means challenging our teachers to face the realities of real-world professionals, than so be it. Teachers are important to our children’s future, but throwing good money after bad won’t solve any problems. We truly need our local school district – and teachers – to do something for the kids. And I hope today, we as a community stand strong and tell them so.



  1. My sister was one of the many, many teachers laid off last year. A year pretty much spent trying to teach while knowing your job isn't going to be there next year. She was laid off as well as many of her TENURED friends. So while tenured usually means job security, it certainly doesn't ensure it. And she certainly didn't make $60,000 a year. The teachers who make that much are the ones who have been there for years. I think you are a little bit off base making such generalizations, because most of the teachers who lost their jobs in the district were not the ones that wouldn't concede to pay cuts. They were the teachers in the first couple years of their career; teachers who chose teaching as their profession because they love children and teaching and weren't yet jaded by the politics of school administration.
    By the way, you can thank teachers for your successful career today.

  2. You do realize that kindergarten teachers teach all day - a morning and an afternoon class - right?

  3. Wow! As a lawyer, I know you understand negotiations. Asking teachers, or anybody in a union, to take a pay cut in order to save jobs and not extending anything in return is not a negotiation, that's a threat and an ultimatum.

    Also, as an aside, the $60k for kindergarten teachers is not across the board. My guess is that person has been with the district a considerable amount of time, and has earned and worked towards the pay s/he receives. On a whole, according to familytaxpayers.org, only 15 people in the ENTIRE District 26 make over 6 figures- 8 are teachers and they average 30 years for experience.

    What will the referendum raise your taxes a year? Less than $30? In perspective, that's less than a pair of shoes usually costs, and you're saving many educational programs. In the long run, isn't that the better option for your town, your schools, your kids, and your community?

  4. Karen, you are a Rockstar! Best election day post ever.

  5. You're exactly right...as a teacher I am sitting here screaming out in protest. Have you ever been a teacher? Have you ever worked with kids who are homeless, abused, sick, hungry, depressed, suicidal, with parents who are divorced, dead or dying, in jail, in another country...the list can go on and on. I have had, or currently have, every one of these students in my class. I am so sick of everybody pulling the 'summers off' excuse. It is so lame. Teachers do a lot of work over the summers, such as professional development, curriculum development, continuing education classes, summer school, etc... Maybe you should get out of your comfy law office and get into a real classroom. See what it is like to work with 30+ kids that could really give a crap about verbs and adverbs because they don't know if they are going to have dinner that night or they have to take care of their younger brothers and sisters because their parent works 2nd shift. Granted not all kids are in that position, but it is becoming more and more frequent every year. I earn every dollar I get paid. How much of your 'billable' hours would you give up to be a teacher since we have it so easy?

  6. I tried to edit the post itself to reflect this, but it won't do it without writing over Jean's post, so here it is: The opinions in this post represent my opinions only, and not those of the other JD Moms.

  7. While I sympathize with your points about budget cuts and the complexities of any vote concerning education, I disagree with sweeping generalizations about teachers (or about anyone, for that matter). I won't go into my teaching salary except to say that there are specific things I give up, and money is one of them, to have other freedoms. But the "time off" I get is time I spend on research, writing, and other projects that are not bankable. During this "time off," I also recover from the mental and physical stress of dealing with the needs of individual students, and these needs seem to get more and more diverse each year as they are socially acknowledged. And I teach university students who are, technically, adults. Based on how I usually feel by the end of a semester, I can't imagine, actually, trying to deal with overcrowded classes of students from 8-4 every day. While I am sure that having clients is stressful, clients and students inhabit different contexts and so the analogy is not ultimately apt in this type of discussion.