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Teacher decries ‘hard freeze’ offer on District 304 salaries

GENEVA – A high school art teacher complained to the Geneva School District 304 board Monday that a “hard freeze” offered on teacher salaries would create a hardship, especially for lower-paid teachers – such as herself – who earn less than $50,000.

Danica Fahmy of Burr Ridge was one of more than 100 teachers clad in bright, green shirts who again packed a school board meeting.

Teachers have come to the past few meetings, ratcheting up pressure about not having a new contract.

Fahmy spoke to the school board about being one of the lower-paid teachers, saying a “hard freeze” proposed by the district on teacher salaries would have a serious impact on her ability to pay back loans for her master’s degree in art education.

“We all went into teaching for the love of education, not for love of money,” Fahmy said. “I know that I will not become a millionaire at any point during my career, but I had always felt with teaching, I would have a somewhat comfortable life.”

Fahmy detailed her life, which includes living in a house she inherited, driving 63 miles round trip each day to teach in Geneva, spending nearly $750 a month on tolls and gas and a fourth of her salary on property taxes.

“To be honest, it hasn’t been that comfortable, but I haven’t complained – at last not until very recently when I discovered that the school board is hung up on proposing a hard freeze [on salaries], which will have a dire effect on all of us,” Fahmy said. “Especially teachers like myself who are making less than $50,000.”

Fahmy said if she does not get a “lane change” $2,000 raise by the time she has to start paying her student loans back, she will not be able to afford it.

Fahmy said she and many other teachers live “paycheck to paycheck,” and she will be hard-pressed to come up with an extra $100 to pay her student loan.

“That $10,000 [she pays in property taxes] is going toward the salaries of teachers of Lyons Township High School in southwest suburban LaGrange – that is one of the best-paid high schools in suburban Chicago,” Fahmy said. “And not for one second have I felt that these teachers – who make double what I do for the same experience and credentials – are undeserving or greedy, which is what some people are calling Geneva’s teachers.”

Bob McQuillan – a founder of TaxFACTS, a local tax watchdog group – countered Fahmy’s comments by describing his life changing during the economic downturn.

“I’m 55 years old, been married for 32 years, have three children,” McQuillan said. “In 1995, along with three co-workers, I was downsized because my division was sold. Now, 17 years later, I make $2,000 more than I did in 1995. I have not complained to anybody about my salary. I’ve gotten up at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning to drive somebody in a limousine to take somebody to the airport for $8.25 an hour, plus tips.”

McQuillan said he lives “in the real world” where his employer does not offer medical insurance benefits. He said he and others who live in Geneva have lost 40 percent of the value of their homes in an economic downturn that could not have been predicted.

“No one is disrespecting or treating teachers unfairly,” McQuillan said. “The world has changed, and we have to adapt to that change.”

McQuillan said the district’s debt for building schools will take up any surplus or savings school officials have set aside.

“I am not asking anyone to do anything that no one else has had to or been forced to do,” McQuillan said. “If my employer came to me tomorrow and said that, ‘I will guarantee your salary for the next two years at its current rate,’ I would ask him where I could sign on the dotted line. My salary is not guaranteed for the next two weeks.”

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