“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.
“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 stretchDon’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.
We should have looked south.