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Geneva residents weigh in on teacher contract issue

Updated: November 19, 2012 2:36PM

GENEVA — The Geneva School Board Wednesday night approved a final contract offer to be made to the Geneva teachers union.

In a release issued Thursday morning, the board cautioned that “final” is a statutory term used within the context of state law.

“It is not intended to indicate an unwillingness on the part of the Board of Education to continue negotiations toward an agreement,” the board statement said.

The board did not release details of its offer.

Both sides must submit their final contract proposals to the Illinois Labor Relations Board this Friday, said board President Mark Grosso.

Despite declaring an impasse in negotiations last week, the Geneva Education Association teachers union will continue to work with board members and independent mediators to reach an agreement, Geneva High School math teacher and GEA negotiator Kim Lee said.

“The e-mail you sent through Geneva Connects last Friday gave many people in the community the impression that we would refuse to continue negotiating,” Lee said Wednesday evening. “The GEA will attend the scheduled mediation session Oct. 23, and every session thereafter. We hope the board is planning on attending, as well.”

Both sides are deadlocked over salaries and benefits, people at Wednesday evening’s special meeting agreed. Teachers say a pay freeze is unacceptable because they already make less money than teachers in St. Charles, Batavia and other comparable area school districts. Board members maintain that looming building bond payments that threaten to double property taxes within the next decade prevent them from offering any raises in the foreseeable future.

“Given the economic uncertainty that faces our School District and our community, the Board of Education has asked all employee groups to forego certain pay raises. Our administrators and all other nonteaching personnel have done so. The Board believes that it is only fair that teachers share the load and forego one pay raise,” Grosso said in the release.

Some residents said that the school district can’t afford to lose good teachers or compromise the quality of the education it provides, even if it means raising taxes more in the short run.

“What is the price of excellent teachers and education? What is the value of excellent teachers and education?” asked resident Carol Sanders, who said her daughter is getting a better education at Geneva Middle School North than she did at the private elementary school she attended.

“What may be unintended consequences of a pay freeze? When the economy improves, will builders choose to build homes in Geneva? How will it affect the value of living in Geneva in the long run?”

Others said teachers must accept that the economic downturn requires them to make the same sacrifices that private sector workers have made.

“Teachers have a defined pension program, which very few people working today have. Also, their jobs are not being outsourced, unlike jobs in other industries,” noted resident Tom Maloney. “People in the corporate world are taking pay cuts, changing to the graveyard shift and working longer hours just to keep their jobs. I don’t understand what the problem is with taking a pay freeze to avoid layoffs.”

And some said freezing teachers’ salaries and benefits is necessary, whether or not it’s fair.

“Geneva teachers may be lower paid than Batavia, St. Charles and other surrounding areas,” commented resident Dwight Swertick. “Unfortunately for them, other districts don’t have Geneva’s money problems. We have a 10-year mountain of debt. We should act now to flatten the property tax trajectory. If we don’t, we’re going to be uncompetitive with other districts. All attempts to place the blame how we got here really doesn’t matter.”

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