By Ben Velderman
EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. – The school year’s barely a month old, and Illinois is already bracing for its third teachers’ strike.
Teachers in the Evergreen Park School District 124 are threatening to walk out on their 1,800 students tomorrow if the school board doesn’t meet the union’s pay raise and health insurance demands. A last-minute compromise doesn’t seem likely, as a union negotiator announced last week that the two sides weren’t “even in the same ballpark,” reports EvergreenParkPatch.com.
District officials have provided parents with a list of alternative activities for their children, in the event of a teacher walkout, but they’d do better to launch a public-relations counteroffensive against the Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers’ misleading propaganda.
Since most Illinois lawmakers are beholden to the unions through campaign contributions, there is no chance the state will ban teacher strikes. That means the only way district officials can fight teacher walkouts is by thoroughly informing parents and taxpayers about the union’s abject selfishness.
A united community could put pressure on the union to accept a contract that’s based on real-world economic conditions, instead of the union’s irresponsible wish list.
But Evergreen school officials seem unwilling to engage in tough public relations battles with the union.
For example, union officials issued a press release late last week stating that their contract proposal “is less than what we have in the current contract.”
“Let’s be clear, our proposal already represents a cut for the teachers and staff. As we’ve said before, we tried to compromise as much as possible before we made the impasse offer in an effort to reach a settlement,” the union statement read.
The Evergreen school board should be pushing back against the union’s absurd claim of accepting tough cuts. Instead, school leaders have limited themselves to publishing a side-by-side comparison of the two sides’ contract offers on the district’s website.
That means concerned community members have to take the initiative and dig through the comparison chart to discover that the EPFT’s “cuts” are limited to some modest reductions in retiree benefits.
Apart from that, the union is demanding annual pay raises of more than 3 percent for teachers and raises of 30.7 percent and 24.6 percent for paraprofessionals and secretaries, respectively. So much for the union’s claim of being financial responsible.
School officials are offering raises for all employees based on the Consumer Price Index. That’s certainly a reasonable proposition, considering the state of Illinois’ shaky economy.
Board members are also willing to give teacher raises based on student test scores. That’s also a very reasonable position. If students aren’t learning in particular classes, the teachers are not meeting their mandate. They don’t deserve a raise.
The two sides are also at odds over who should pay for rising health insurance costs. The district wants employees to help shoulder those costs, but the union is refusing to help out. That’s out of step with a growing number of school districts across the nation, where employees frequently pay as much as 20 or 30 percent of insurance premiums.
Most members of the overtaxed Evergreen community would support their school leaders, if they had all the facts. But since district officials haven’t been making much effort to sell their proposals to the public, the union has been able to bamboozle some parents into thinking the teachers are “getting cheated,” according to the Patch.
The EPFT has added to the confusion by talking about the $16 million that’s sitting in the district’s savings account. The union complains that the money is “earmarked for mysterious, unnamed projects,” while staff remains underpaid. In reality, the district needs that money to make necessary building repairs, such as replacing 85-year-old pipes at the junior high school, reports 89 WLS.
While much of this information is available in the media in drips and dabs, residents will only hear about it by scouring multiple websites. The district should be actively pushing this information out into the community. Refusing to do so allows the union-fueled confusion and misinformation to reign.
Until school officials get tough and start pushing back against the union bullies, teacher strikes will keep occurring throughout Illinois, disrupting student learning and inconveniencing already stressed-out families.