Rahm brings Wilmette bargaining style to Chicago.

“We buy the cheapest paper. Why not the cheapest teachers.”

I have a teaching pal who proudly hails from a working class suburb on the south-west side of Chicago.

For years he has described for me the difference between the boards of education from these communities and those from the tonier north suburban and north shore suburbs.

Intuitively folks think that teachers up north get more respect, higher salaries and bargaining that goes smoother.

Not so.

“Parents and those that sit on the board of education are very respectful of teachers and the hard work we do,” my buddy always tells me. “People work hard for their money. But they are concerned about their children’s futures and they are willing to pay top dollar to get good teachers.”

My own bargaining experience has been decidedly different. I have spent my professional teaching career in a north suburban school district. The bargaining scenario has, with a few exceptional years,  always played out the same. It’s like squeezing blood from a turnip.

It can be characterized by a comment made by a parent at a board meeting a few years ago. “If we look to buy the cheapest paper, why not the cheapest teachers?”

One year a board member told the union bargaining team, “You have to understand that to us, teachers are just one more cost that needs to be contained.”

This difference in attitude towards teachers as a reflection of economic class differences is supported by an article in today’s Chicago Sun-Times.

If you want to take home Illinois’ top dollar in teacher pay over time, don’t head to Chicago, where beginning salaries start out strong but fade in the stretch

Don’t even head to tony Winnetka or Lincolnshire.

Head straight to the near southwest suburbs. Blue-collar Burbank. Working-class Summit. Middle-class Oak Lawn.

A pocket of suburbs southwest of Chicago — some of them kissing the city’s border — have a blue-chip salary schedule that rewards starting teachers as well as the most veteran, highly credentialed ones with some of the steepest teacher pay in the state. Their beginning and ending teacher salaries are among the top 15 in Illinois.

The compensation surpasses even what is paid in Winnetka and Lincolnshire, where bottom and top scales are nothing to weep about, coming in among the top 25 in the state.

It appears that Rahm Emanuel has brought the Wilmette attitude towards teachers to the bargaining table in Chicago.

Note that recent polls show that the attitude of  the working class parents of Chicago public school children are similar to their south suburban counterparts. They overwhelmingly support the teachers in the current bargaining process.

When I sat down with our bargaining team and the representatives of the board, the first thing we would agree on was a list of comparable districts. We often referred to these at the “north forty.” They were the districts that made up the north suburbs and north shore. We used these to check that both side’s proposals reflected the market.

Our mistake.

We should have looked south.

3 Replies to “Rahm brings Wilmette bargaining style to Chicago.”

  1. Hi Fred,
    As a teacher about to return to work in the school district you just retired from, I’d like to comment about the cheapest paper, cheapest teacher remark. It was used again last fall by a small pocket of Tea Partiers speaking to the Board about cost containment.

    Citizens of Park Ridge, you need to get a clue. Your public schools are the only things your city has going for it. Your property values are declining, and your property taxes are increasing, like just about everywhere else. Your local government is broke and has had to lay off police officers. Take a look at your downtown. Store after store is empty and you have no industry to speak of. People still buy homes in Park Ridge because of the excellent reputation of the SCHOOL SYSTEM. They don’t move here to eat at Houlihan’s or go to the Pickwick. If the Board were to hire the “cheapest teachers,” your schools would decline faster than Facebook’s stock price. When the schools decline, there go your property values. The experience of the teachers, their level of education, and their commitment to your children is what makes your schools excellent. Containing costs when it comes to hiring educators does not. A younger teacher doesn’t mean a better teacher, an older one doesn’t mean worse. There is a need for every level of teaching experience in your schools, and to suggest otherwise is ignorant.

    We have no contract as of this writing. Teachers in D64 will nevertheless return to work on August 20. That’s what we do. We teach children, and if you’re looking strictly at standardized test scores, we do a fantastic job. There is more to it than test scores, however. You don’t see the intense work that goes on to make sure all of our students, your children, succeed. That takes collaboration between your educators at all levels on the pay scale.

    District 64 Schools are the jewel in Park Ridge’s crown. If you truly want Park Ridge to remain “A Wonderful Place,” let your School Board know that you want your schools to continue to offer a superb education while keeping your property values steady. Tell them you are not on board with hiring “the cheapest.”


    A Faculty Member of D64

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