Community split on Geneva teacher pact
By Denise Linke For The Beacon-News October 23, 2012 4:46PM
Updated: November 25, 2012 11:29AM
GENEVA — As the Geneva teachers union and School Board move toward presenting their final contract proposals, residents at this week’s School Board meeting remained sharply divided on the issue of teacher pay.
Some of those who addressed the board argued that teachers should not expect to be protected from the recession at the expense of struggling taxpayers.
“Our economy is not rallying fast enough to offer teachers more money or benefits,” said Teresa Keenan, owner of the Stone Tower Properties real estate firm in Geneva.
Raising school taxes to pay for a pay hike could bankrupt some Geneva homeowners, she said.
“Mathematically, it doesn’t add up to a district that can sustain itself,” she said.
Other residents said that protecting taxpayers during the three-year term of the contract could devastate the School District and lower property values for 10 years or longer.
“Our education system is what drives people to live in Geneva. At the end of the day, no one wins if there’s a strike,” said resident Gary Fennessy.
Last week, members of the Geneva Education Association approved a strike authorization vote. No strike would be called until sometime in November, teachers union officials cautioned.
The GEA has posted its final contract offer to the board on its website, www.gea4students.org. Teachers are seeking a 1 percent base pay increase for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, plus step and lane increases for teachers who earn them. Any step or lane increase would add 2.65 percent to a teacher’s salary, School Board President Mark Grosso said.
Teachers have offered to accept a pay freeze during the first six months of the 2014-15 school year, then take just step and lane hikes without a base pay increase. The increases would cost the district $1,026,421 this school year, $612,257 next school year and $260,993 in 2014-15, according to the teachers website.
The teachers offer also includes some concessions, including asking single teacher to pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums and lowering tuition reimbursement for approved professional training to 50 percent, with a district-wide cap of $85,000 this year, $75,000 next year and $50,000 the year after that.
The School Board will not post its offer until Friday, unless the two sides settle the contract before then, Grosso said.
Grosso did comment on the teachers’ offer in a press release issued Tuesday, saying that the step and lane increases make the teachers’ potential pay raises far larger than they appear at first glance.
“Under the Union proposal, in year one, a teacher would receive a minimum of 2.65% ‘step’ increase, plus 1%, for a total minimum increase of 3.65%,” Grosso said in the release. “Any applicable ‘lane’ movement leading up to the Master’s degree would add an additional 2.65% per lane. A teacher with only one lane movement in the first year would receive a 6.3% increase in salary. If the lane movement occurred beyond the Master’s degree, the teacher would receive a 9.02% increase in the year.”
The district’s financial consultant, Elizabeth, Hennessy noted that state legislators could add to the district’s financial burden in the next year or two.
“In our projections, we didn’t add the possibility that the Illinois Legislature could pass funding teachers pensions to local districts...,” said Hennessy.
“We’re dealing with a lot of things – not just teacher salaries and school meals,” said board member Matt Henry. “We have to make decisions slowly and wait until last minute, then make the right decisions.”