Teachers in Geneva have scored high marks for their job performance, and they certainly are among the most respected in their field in the Tri-Cities area. So it is difficult to believe that those negotiating on behalf of such a group could be so out of touch when it comes to the rhetoric surrounding the labor dispute in District 304.
Many in the community have struggled to make ends meet, with the economy causing many to take pay cuts or reductions in hours. Some have lost their jobs outright. But school budgets continue to go up, with the greatest expense – by far – being teacher salaries. And while many area residents are making significantly less than they did five years ago, those representing the Geneva teachers in the current negotiations are balking at the majority of teachers taking a “hard freeze” for a year, saying that such a move would cost them for years to come.
They say that as if the rest of us don’t know that. That’s been the reality for so many in the area already. Sacrifices have been made. And many in the community have responded with outrage that the teachers union representatives don’t seem to care. What irks many is this – not only have their salaries been reduced severely, but their property taxes continue to go up, in part, to help pay teachers who have continued to get their salary increases each year.
It’s not that residents are upset that teachers are able to thrive. It’s just that such increases are being paid by people who are in no position to be paying more money – and on top of that, their home values have plummeted as well.
But at the union’s website – www.gea4students.org – union president Carol Young has posted a video explaining how hard it would be for teachers to accept a salary freeze for a year. She said teachers will lose that money, “not just this year, but every year of their careers.”
“I understand that times are tough right now. We know that people in our community are losing their jobs and homes,” Young said in the video. “If us taking a freeze would actually help those people, we would be happy to accept this. … Us accepting a freeze will not lower anyone’s property taxes.”
But it would be a significant step in the right direction to address teacher salaries and benefits. If schools represent the greatest amount of your property tax bill, and teacher salaries are the greatest expense for a school district, how could that not affect your property taxes? And community response has made it clear that increasing property taxes have had a dramatic impact on the area’s quality of life.
Every year, residents express outrage when they receive their tax bills. They’ll call those who issue the bills, and they’ll demand answers. This would be the time to start paying attention and speaking up if you feel strongly about the teacher contract talks in Geneva. A strike could occur as soon as Friday.
Teachers in other local school districts have accepted salary freezes over the past few years. It is not unreasonable to ask Geneva teachers to do the same.