An Open Letter to Geneva Teachers

The title says it all!

Dear Teachers,

Please understand, I’m not trying to be some sort of overbearing Jewish mother here (even though I’m really good at it.) I’m convinced you’re capable of making your own decisions. It’s just that, with our sound bite culture insistently eroding our long-term memories, sometimes a history lesson serves a purpose.

To that end only, let me stipulate that few people have publicly supported teachers as often as I have. My columns, and there’ve been about 10, have been inserted into teachers’ mailboxes from Batavia to Kaneville and Streamwood to Geneva.

I’ve dispensed with the specious summer vacation argument. I’ve described how most teachers work from the minute they get up in the morning to second they turn off that bedroom light.

I’ve railed against that ridiculous No Child Left Behind, lamented the fate of educators cast adrift by a lack of parental support, and argued if Wall Street jackals can make that kind of money for doing less than nothing, then teachers —the soul of our communities—should make more.

In addition, I’ve consistently called out the bullies for exactly who and what they are.

I’ve even walked in your shoes by standing before Geneva High School business classes and cross country teams and, with antiperspirant failing, knew darn well that 80 percent of Genevans would quit after just one day in the classroom.

Please understand, I seek neither credit nor gratitude for any of it because writing the truth is its own reward.

And the truth is, I’ve tried to stay out of this debate. When I did finally state my case, I tried to bring balance to the contract negotiation force. But since subtlety gets you nowhere these days, it’s time to be blunt.

I can’t simply stand by and watch a group of people I care so much about commit professional suicide. Tennyson may have glorified marching to certain doom, but there’s nothing honorable about embracing that fool’s errand.

Despite their pronouncements to the contrary, the GEA has not won and will not win the hearts and minds of the people of Geneva. In fact, I’ve never seen this city so united on any single front. Even the Chronicle, that bastion of the middle of the road, just issued as scathing an editorial as I’ve ever seen them run, calling for a teacher pay freeze.

What little support the union had managed to curry was unceremoniously cast aside by their ill-advised and ill-timed “open letter to the citizens of Geneva.” I have no clue as to why the GEA would want to turn a 6-foot ditch into a 12-foot hole, but that’s exactly what they did.

When union leadership wrote, “Your teachers support the idea of (tax) abatement when fair and equitable, but are opposed to the idea of abatement at the expense of staff being asked to accept salary freezes,” it was as unfathomable as anything I’ve ever read.

Your union—not you—basically told Geneva, “We don’t give a flying bleep if you lose your homes or are forced to move. We don’t care about the pay cuts, the frozen salaries, and the financial pain you’ve had to endure, our members, who haven’t begun to share in your pain, deserve raises.”

Either the GEA is completely oblivious to the water that’s rising above their necks or they’re purposely holding Geneva teachers hostage to some unknown greater IEA cause.

But we all know that whenever any leaders become so self-absorbed that they fail to appropriately represent their constituents, it’s time to replace them or break ranks.

If you follow the union’s lead and strike, there are thousands of under-employed and unemployed teachers who will cross the picket line and will take your jobs. This isn’t a threat—it’s a reality. I’ve spoken with many of them.

Given the union’s incomprehensible and horrific strategy, were I on the board, I’d make my final offer, keep my mouth shut, wait for the strike, and solve the district’s difficult debt problem by starting over.

I don’t care what the GEA tells you, the thought of hiring replacement teachers, unthinkable just a week ago, is suddenly something Genevans are willing to consider. And you can thank that open letter for that.

Not only that, but the School Board’s current contract proposal is a good one. It’s more than I would offer, and I’m the one who thinks you should making more money! But like all good things, it will take time. Some folks seem to forget that neither Rome nor Geneva was built in a day.

One of the few things you can count on during this existence is change. And that applies to attitudes, attention spans and economics. In three short years there will be another contract negotiation, and I guarantee you, things will be different.

Please understand, I have only your best interests in mind. When you consider the self-excavated 12-foot hole the GEA currently finds themselves standing in, this is not the time to make a stand—it’s time to cut your losses.

The good news is, the die is not yet cast. You still have options. I ask you to choose wisely.


Jeff Ward
November 4, 2012 

Linda Biesecker November 07, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Beth is absolutely right. Many parents who are not involved in the PTO don’t really know all the support that is provided to the teachers. At Geneva Middle School North, where I’m the current treasurer, we also supply monthly Teacher Appreciation Breakfasts, yearly allotments to all teachers, money to all Language Arts teachers to supplement their classroom libraries, money to all Language Arts and Social Studies teachers for classroom subscriptions, and we fulfill teacher wish list items. I’m concerned that this financial support will not be so readily available in years to come. You see, our monetary support depends on the generosity of parents. I’m not involved with the GAF, but I imagine they’re concerned as well. I also want to be clear that I’m not speaking on behalf on anyone else on the board. This is just my opinion.
t November 08, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Agree with Max. Let the strike happen and bring teachers' work benefits and compensation in line with those in the private sector and into this century: no guaranteed pensions, no guaranteed pay-raises, no guaranteed jobs if you aren't doing well, merit-based pay, significant employee contribution to health insurance... I believe that teachers are generally underpaid for the work they do and unless you've walked in their shoes and done the job you don't know what you're saying when you say "boo hoo." However, to strike in these economic times when the rest of your neighbours are subject to pay freezes and reductions in benefits is pure greed and makes you poor role models for our children.
t November 08, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Though membership in the GEA is voluntary, I remember many moons ago when I was a first-year teacher. It was assumed you would be in the union and when, that first year, we went on strike, it was assumed I agreed, though I did not. So to view all Geneva teachers or even all Geneva teachers in the GEA and making these demands in the same light does not seem right. However, now is the time for those teachers who recognize the current demands as out-of-step with the times to stand apart. Now is the time for the community and the BoE to give those teachers a forum to do this. Certainly when I was a first-year teacher I wouldn't have been aware of other options. For those who choose to remain resolute, there are many others waiting to fill your shoes. Is it convenient? No. But this bridge has to be crossed. It is, as Grace F says, an out-dated model.
t November 08, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Robert Jr - "like" (we need a "like" button)
t November 08, 2012 at 03:05 PM
For those teachers who took on the expense of continued education with the clear understanding that they would be compensated for it, then they should be compensated as expected. A line should be drawn, however, to ensure that in the future there are no such guaranteed expectations. Pay-boosting to boost pensions, however common it might be, is reprehensible and almost deceitful. As for a contract? In my company we don't have one. Illinois is a no-blame state and we can be sacked at any time without cause.


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