Geneva teachers Monday night, expressing frustration with ongoing teacher negotiations that have been unresolved since the ended in Aug. 15.
Dr. Vicky Tusken, a teacher at Geneva Middle School, called for a problem-solving approach to negotiations, in which neither the Geneva Education Association nor the School Board "come to the table with a set of must-haves."
"I am boldly asking all of you to push aside the rancor," she said. "Let us rediscover the power of coming to the table with the possibility of a win-win."
She implored the School Board to give up "your adherence to a hard salary freeze," the first public reference to either side's position at the bargaining table.
"The very fabric of our community rests in the balance," she said.
Danica Fahmy, an art teacher at l, said not every teacher is making the $72,305 average teacher salary posted on the School District website and published in previous .
Fahmy said she is making less than $50,000 and is struggling to pay student loans.
"I really hope that the School Board and the GEA come to some kind of agreement soon that would benefit everyone: teachers, administrators, School Board members and taxpayers," she said. "But if an agreement isn't made, and students discover that some of their teachers with master's degrees are flipping burgers after school, I think it will send a very bad message—that a career in education and also receiving a higher education is not worth all the sacrifices and will leave you penniless, thus resulting in attaining work at fast-food joints to make extra money just to pay the bills."
Speaking as a team at the podium were librarian Elizabeth Grubaugh and Tom Grubaugh, a longtime Geneva social studies teacher and coach.
"Perhaps what is most disheartening about the current situation is that, in the past, all parties came together—each with their own perspective but with the confidence that an agreement could be made," Elizabeth Grubaugh said. "Teachers didn't ask for the moon in good times, and the School Board didn't try to gouge the teachers in the bad."
"There has been a trust in this community, between parents, teachers and School Board," said Tom Grubaugh. "The loss of that trust would be a critical blow to the learning environment in Geneva and would be very difficult to rebuild. We fear that relationship is not a priority with this board and is in jeopardy."
School Board President Mark Grosso set the stage for public comments by asking "anyone who speaks to leave your negative comments on the keyboard."
"We’re all aware of the tough economy that we have right now," he said. "Our goal as a board is to maintain a flat operating budget. We’ve not asked anyone to take a pay cut. We’ve not reduced any jobs during that time. ... I’d like to ask everyone to have patience with this process."
He also asked for caution with the use of the term "surplus funds."
"I’ve seen that term thrown around, and it seems to indicate we have a big box of money sitting around," he said. "Those funds are the same as if someone has a savings account. Those funds belong to the taxpayers."
Members of the Geneva TaxFACTS citizens group said the School District's debt for previous building bonds is escalating, and the tax levy will continue to increase for at least the next five years.
"I know the teachers don’t like to talk numbers, but we’ve got to talk numbers," said Sandra Ellis. "Do teachers not really understand that the total budget is the bottom line? There is no money piling up. Please, teachers, don’t plead a case full of half truths in front of children. Please lead by example."
Elizabeth Grubaugh noted that Grosso would be taking a vacation soon and asked for a quick return to the negotiating table. Grosso countered by saying that GEA representatives had missed meetings in May and July.
"I’ve been at this since January, and we’ve made every meeting," he said. "It is not the School Board or administration who has chosen to not attend meetings."