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Emails detail District 304 labor frustration

GENEVA – “Please do not give another inch.”

“Let them strike. The parents are behind you.”

“Should the Geneva Education Association strike, let the new hiring begin!”

The emails came like an avalanche to the Geneva School District 304 board, especially in the days before the teachers contract was settled Nov. 12.

School attorney Sarah Miller put the letters of support in the hundreds, beginning at the first hint of labor strife in August. Board President Mark Grosso noted in a statement that the amount of correspondence was so great, officials could not respond to each one personally.

Approximately 300 email messages sent to board members from Nov. 1 to 11 were obtained by the Kane County Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request. The messages showed most of the public sentiment supported the school board – not the teachers – in the heated contract talks.

At issue was the school board offering a hard salary freeze the first year and teachers resisting. Teachers eventually accepted the freeze, with exceptions for those who qualify for lane advancement and those who submitted retirement notices.

District officials redacted portions of the emails so no identifying information would be available.

A review of the obtained documents show a minority of emails supported the teachers’ position, many from Geneva High School graduates who said they received first-rate educations.

“I stand with Geneva teachers,” wrote a 2005 graduate. “Without the teachers at the Geneva schools I have attended from kindergarten to 12th grade, I wouldn’t be who I am today. … I am grateful for the education they gave me.”

“It seems as though it has been forgotten that teachers teach for their livelihood and are not doing volunteer or charity work,” another graduate wrote. “They are professionals and should be treated and paid as [such].”

From another: “I am willing to spend the money to pay them a decent wage. That is some of the best return on my tax dollars that I know of.”

But the majority of messages to school officials were not in support of the teachers. A recurrent theme was the effect of the economic downturn on personal financial lives.

“Our home value has gone down over $150,000 ... yet taxes continue to increase,” wrote one community member.

“I am fortunate to still have a job, but my health care costs have increased each year … as have my property taxes,” one email stated. “How can we be asked to pay for higher teacher salaries … unimaginable to taxpayers struggling to make ends meet.”

Some community members urged school officials to let teachers strike – and then to replace them.

“The teachers have to realize we do not have unlimited resources,” wrote another community member. “If they choose to strike, it is on them. At that point, the board should strongly consider permanent replacement teachers ...”

“I recognize the ‘double edge’ sword of our property values and an excellent school district,” states another email. “I don’t buy into the argument that you can ‘buy’ the best school system and at the expense of bankrupting the community.”

Another person who emailed announced a decision to move.

“This whole process has given us the extra push to put the sign in the yard and get out,” the community member wrote. “There will be one less student to pay for next year and the following year, our younger one would have attended as well.”

Teachers union President Carol Young said she could understand the persistent theme in the emails sent to the school board, but parent-teacher relationships seemed largely intact.

“We had parent-teacher conferences after the strike was averted, and – for the most part – they were fine,” Young said. “I know of one teacher that had a parent ream her out, but mostly the conferences were positive.”

School officials reported that the FOIA request cost $762.30 in employee and attorney time.

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