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District 304 teachers, taxpayers speak out on contract talks

GENEVA – Teachers, parents and a local taxpayer watchdog jousted in yet another meeting this week of the Geneva School District 304 board.

Teachers are working without a new contract because their previous one expired Aug. 15. Despite a confidentiality agreement between the Geneva Academic Association bargaining team and school officials, teachers have spoken to the board to reject its reported offer of a “hard freeze” for the first year of a new contract.

Bob McQuillan, a cofounder of TaxFACTS, a local property tax watchdog group, has countered teachers’ comments to the school board about spending.

Although teachers say with $30 million in reserve, the district can afford to give raises, McQuillan argues the district is not in a surplus situation with a budget that spends $4 million more than revenues for the 2012-13 school year.

“The real perfect storm is the repayment of $309 million in debt service over the next 15 years,” McQuillan said. “Our yearly debt repayment will increase dramatically over the next seven years ... from $6.1 million per year to $25 million per year.”

McQuillan said the district’s reserves “are the taxpayers’ money, not anyone else’s. … I urge the board to only spend reserve funds on debt service repayment.”

One parent, Laurie Reattoir, said she supported a raise for teachers.

“I live in a modest house on the east side,” Reattoir said. “My two cars are as old as my children, 11 and 14.”

She recounted how the family struggles to live on one salary and the impact of high school fees. But she urged the board to offer a pay increase to teachers so their starting salaries would match those of neighboring districts.

“We want to make it perfectly clear that Bob McQuillan does not speak for me,” Reattoir said. “Everyone in this community should be much more worried about what a teacher strike will do to the desirability of living in Geneva and how that will impact home values long term.”

Teacher Mary Keyzer rebutted reports of how high pay increases were to teachers last year, saying she was one of several teachers who received 12 percent raises.

“There are some misconceptions about our pay,” Keyzer said. “We do receive raises for continued education or master level classes. We do receive raises for increased amounts of teaching times and/or new stipend activities.”

A social studies teacher at the high school, Keyzer said her duties as an adviser to student council, co-activities director, a swim coach, lunchroom supervisor, adviser to classes and numerous clubs – five in all – led to those increases. When the public looks at teacher salaries, they should realize additional degrees and responsibilities are part of it, she said.

McQuillan told the board that yearly salary increases are not sustainable because teachers will want more each year. He noted that bus drivers, support staff and administrators all accepted salary freezes.

“The teachers union is facing its worst nightmare – a strong board and an informed public,” McQuillan said. “They liked it a lot better when they just walked up to the taxpayer ATM, and it spit out money. Well, we are not going to give it anymore. We cannot afford it.”

Board President Mark Grosso said the next bargaining session is scheduled for Oct. 23.

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