After a relatively short period of mild sacrifice, there are indications those in the education field believe the rest of us are ready to tolerate a return to business as usual.
Teachers’ labor discussions have been more contentious. Locally, a teacher strike in Geneva was avoided at the last second. But this academic year, there have been strikes in Chicago, Grayslake, Evergreen Park, District 300 (which encompasses northern Kane County and southern McHenry County), Lake Forest, Highland Park, Dixon and West Chicago.
Another example of contention was on display Monday night in Sugar Grove, when the Kaneland School District 302 board approved a raise for Superintendent Jeff Schuler, boosting his base salary to $175,000 from July 1 to June 30, 2014. School documents indicated he made a base salary of $158,525 during the 2011-12 school year.
With the exception of one board member – a vocal Tony Valente, who called the raise “astronomical” – board members cited the usual reasons for a raise of about 11 percent. Those who voted for it talked of paying to retain talent, said they didn’t want the district to be a training ground for superintendents, or said they were happy with Schuler’s work.
By most indications, Schuler has done a good job in Kaneland. He runs a school district that’s large in area, and the district has – with this exception – been extraordinarily careful with its spending. For instance, the district during this school year eliminated some bus stops, hoping to save $50,000 on maintenance and fuel. At the time, board members said they knew it would not be a popular move, but they were tasked to save the district money. Also, Kaneland teachers have been working under a salary freeze since the 2010-11 school year.
But Schuler has faced some criticism, too. Dozens of parents crowded a school board meeting last year to express outrage that the district hasn’t adequately addressed bullying issues. While the leader of the Knights Against Bullying group has been involved in discussions to address bullying, many who showed up said severe issues went unaddressed in previous years.
In backing the raise for Schuler, board members indicated that he had taken a pay freeze over the past few years, sacrificing $15,000. But it’s not much of a sacrifice if, at the first opportunity, a large raise is given. The same can be said of the teachers unions that have been engaged in strike talks throughout the state. After a couple of years of pay freezes and labor peace, teachers unions have been pushing for raises. For the rest of us, a pay freeze over the past few years would have been a welcome alternative to the pay cuts many have had to take.
Why should you care? Even if you don’t have kids attending a public school in Illinois, check out your tax bill. Education costs are usually the largest amount on that list, and that’s a big reason your bill goes up every year, even when the value of your house goes down. Many will complain about this when the bills come out. Instead, perhaps now is the time to take an interest.
This is a season of school board elections, but in District 302, there barely are enough candidates to fill out the field in the April 9 election. A write-in candidate is virtually assured of winning one of the three available spots.
Getting involved is a great way to help shape the future of the school district. In the meantime, we encourage District 302 to be both more economical and fair when it comes to issuing raises – especially while teachers continue to work under a salary freeze.