GENEVA – Geneva District 304 teachers wrote nearly 300 letters to the school board, detailing their dismay at what many called an insulting opening offer on their new contract and the loss of future income.
Teachers took a strike vote with Nov. 13 as earliest date for them to walk out.
In a joint statement Oct. 31, the school board and the Geneva Education Association announced their the previous night’s negotiation session made progress toward a new contract and two more sessions are scheduled this week.
The teachers’ letters were written before the joint statement and were released after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Annual pay increases are steps. A teacher changes lanes and receives a higher salary as he or she reaches higher levels of education, such as a master's degree.
In its last published offer, the district offered a flat increase of $2,050 for all teachers, stating that teacher pay increases should reflect pay increases received by the community members and the general state of the economy.
Annual compensation should be closely tied to economic conditions and the rate of inflation as reflected in the consumer price index, according to the district's offer.
Nearly all the letters decried the loss of the step and lane salary schedule and the lack of financial support for teachers who earn master’s degrees.
“I attained a master’s degree in educational technology in 2016,” wrote Katie Bradac, an art teacher at Geneva Middle School North. “Taking a pay freeze six years ago, having no financial assistance from the district and delayed compensation for this degree makes me feel that the board does not value education or its teachers. … The board has an interest-free loan out on the knowledge I gained through my master’s degree.”
Jason Santo, the high school’s television studio teacher, wrote that he has nine years of experience, one master’s degree and three stipends to earn $65,000 a year.
“If this board cannot reach an agreement with the union that offers its teachers a livable wage, for all levels of experience, then the ‘Tradition of Excellence’ that it continues to preach, will become meaningless.”
Not including a proper step and lane salary schedule and not supporting advanced degrees will lead to Geneva becoming a “rotating door” for new teachers seeking to “pad their resumes and then leave for better supporting school districts,” wrote Matt Gain, the science department coordinator for Geneva Middle School South.
When teachers are supported early in their careers, they stay and the district reaps the benefits, Gain wrote.
“Hiring a teacher is an investment,” Gain, a 2017 Kane County Educator of the Year, wrote. “We can choose to ‘rent’ teachers. Geneva will train a teacher to become better and then the teacher leaves and our training helps other districts. Or we can invest in teachers and reap the benefit ourselves.”
High school orchestra teacher Julie Lawrence wrote that the quality of Geneva schools is what attracts business and home buyers – and teachers "are the critical resource that makes this school district great.”
“Please honor and respect both the work your teachers do, and the community you live in, by providing a better contract to the teachers than the current weak and, dare I say, insulting offer,” Lawrence wrote.
Emma Cole, a high school science teacher, echoed these sentiments, who wrote that without more support, “You will soon be hard-pressed to keep a teacher beyond two or three years.”
“I assure you that teachers will not simply stay because ‘it’s Geneva.’ Not anymore," Cole wrote. "The ‘Tradition of Excellence’ will not be sustainable ... We do not deserve such insulting offers for our own futures and for the futures of our family members.”
Lorrie Ruh, the library media center director at Heartland Elementary School, wrote that even with a second master’s degree, her income level has been held in place twice affecting “not only only my salary today, but my eventual retirement income.”
“Your apparent lack of respect of us as dedicated professionals is simply appalling,” Ruh wrote. “To be treated as replaceable help rather than the professional educators that we are is simply atrocious.”
Lisa Meister, a health educator at Geneva High School and Kane County High School Educator of the Year for 2013, wrote that for the last six years, she has not felt the respect she used to from the school board.
“We are the professionals who are rushing to help your kids when they put a suicide note on our desks,” Meister wrote. “We deserve a fair contract; one with steps and lanes so that we can plan our futures and our financial security.”