District 304 teachers push for new contract
GENEVA – For the fourth time, Geneva School District 304 teachers packed the school board meeting with more than 200 members to show solidarity for getting a new contract.
Teachers spoke out about feeling disrespected for starting the school year without a new contract in place. Some parents, wearing royal blue in contrast with the teachers’ bright green T-shirts, shared how important Geneva’s teachers are for their children’s education.
And a taxpayer watchdog recited salary information to show how well teachers are paid.
Terms of the previous contract remain in place as the district and the Geneva Education Association are in mediation.
Among the teachers who addressed the board was Roxanne Curtis, who has taught music in the district for 25 years.
Curtis said the school board members “are unwilling to consider our most recent request.”
Curtis said the longer these negotiations continue, she realizes they are involved in more than contract negotiations, “but a struggle to be regarded as professionals worthy of respect.”
“Some of us have been attacked personally through social media,” Curtis said. “We have been accused of being greedy, selfish and ungrateful. ... I am a dedicated and passionate educator, and I will not apologize for saying that I feel District 304 teachers have been dealt a slap in the face after all that we accomplish on a daily basis with our most precious resources – our students, your children.”
Debbie Jongebloed, accelerated enrichment instructor at Heartland Elementary School, told the board her family moved to Geneva because of its schools.
“Geneva has changed a little bit in the 23 years I’ve lived here, but one thing that has not changed is people come to this town for the school district,” Jongebloed said.
“We must be doing something right.”
Parent Jenny Scott said she wanted to speak “on behalf of the teachers that my children have had who are so amazing in their lives.”
“Our excellent schools are just one of the many reasons that Geneva is a strong family-focused community,” Scott read. “Our teachers and administrators are the backbone of our children’s educational experience.”
Scott said although the public is not privy to the details of contract talks, the economy is better than it was in 2008 and workers are seeing raises.
“We do not feel a 0 percent increase over the next three years is acceptable,” Scott said. “Zero percent raises in this economy sends a message to our teachers that they are expendable and replaceable.”
As contract talks are confidential, neither side has divulged offers publicly.
But Bob McQuillan, founder of TaxFACTS, a tax watchdog group, countered the teachers’ comments. He recounted various statements, that Geneva has lost its civic pride and there will be dire effects if teachers accept a hard freeze on their salaries.
“And my personal favorite,’very negative groups have been destructive and divisive and there is no place in the community for that,’ “ McQuillan said. “It is clear that the contract issue is all about finances and economics.”
McQuillan recounted 366 full-time teachers’ salary information for 2011-12, showing a range of salary increases from 20 percent down to 2.99 percent with 94 percent of teachers getting some type of raise.
Salary ranges show 50 teachers are paid more than $100,000, he said.
“Maybe this very negative group that one teacher spoke about is the best thing that ever happened to this community,” McQuillan said. “Knowledge is power, and facts can’t be disputed. I want to thank the members of the school board who are doing exactly what they were elected to do – to respect taxpayer interest by serving as a faithful protector of the school district’s assets.”
Board member Kelly Nowak said the board is working to resolve the contract issue.
“I have the privilege of working with six other people who do nothing but care about this district,” Nowak said. “They care abut the community, and that includes everyone, the taxpayers, the teachers and above all, our students. So please, keep that in mind, that we are all working very hard to represent everyone’s best interest … this is not an ‘us and them’ situation.”