Saturday, October 22, 2005

Columnist vs. Teacher

Dear Friends,

The below article appeared in Sun Publications

Back to school on District 202 referendum

In honor of my beloved Chicago White Sox, winners of the 2005 American League pennant, one half of this year's World Series, owners of 99 victories and one of the best pitching staffs in modern memory — OK, I'll stop, the sound of Cubs fans jumping out of windows is irritating — I begin with a baseball quote.

As the verbally-vexed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once (supposedly) said, "It's like deja vu, all over again." I talk not about baseball, but about school referendums — a sport of even greater political intrigue, consequence and yes, difficulty.
Face it — no matter how tough the opposing team is, Mark Buehrle doesn't have to spend seven hours a day with 30 or 35 kids, then go home and grade 100 papers each night.

The District 202 Board of Education on Oct. 11 approved placing a $252.1 million referendum measure on the March 2006 ballot. The board agreed to ask voters for approval to build six more elementary schools, two more middle schools and another high school over five years. The nine new buildings are needed to house expected enrollment increases through the 2010-11 school year. District 202 anticipates continuing to add 2,000 to 2,500 students each year. This year, another 2,700 students enrolled. The package also would include fix-'em-ups at numerous schools and a new transportation facility. All of this will supposedly cost the owner of a house with a $250,000 market value another $63 a year in taxes to the school district. Deja vu. We've been here before. Recently, in fact. In April, when a similar building package failed by about 120 votes. That's right — 120 taxpaying adults made the future more difficult for tens of thousands of children by ignoring the simple facts. Those facts were as obvious and devastating as a Paul Konerko home run. Will those voters be so blinded by their selfish ignorance and have the gall to do so again? Probably.

Few things cloud the voters' judgment like their wallets. And for many, this question next March will come down to nothing so personal as their tax bill, just as it has in the past. Deja vu all over again? Let's hope not.
Because the truth is as clear and incontrovertible as a Bobby Jenks fastball down the middle of home plate.
District 202 continues to grow at a dizzying, breathtaking pace. The whys and hows and wherefores and such are not so important, especially since the district cannot control any of that anyway. What is important is the bottom line: thousands of new students each year. To be housed, where? In classrooms already so full that teachers have trouble teaching effectively?

The Board of Education already has defined what the referendum package will include, what it's all about.
Here's what it is not about. It's not about teacher pay. It's not about out of control pensions — a state function by the way,
beyond the control of the local district. It's not about rich or poor, black or white, gifted or challenged,
old or new. It's not about No Child Left Behind or student achievement or comparing this district to that one (none of which, by the way, absolutely none, are growing as much as District 202). It's not about the problems with state funding (for once). This referendum is, simply, about backsides in seats. How many children should we, can we, do we want to cram into our
classrooms and schools?How much more do we want to burden teachers and administrators already overworked and woefully underpaid? How much more do we want to stretch a facilities system already stretching to its limit? How much is a good education in comfortable facilities worth to a community that continues to grow and draw others here?
Is it worth 63 more dollars a year? The cost of a college education? The difference between a good job with a decent income and another minimum wage gig at the latest megasuperstore to build on Route 59?
Voters will have to decide this next March.

As for me, well, Yogi Berra has already spoken my sentiments. I voted yes before. There is no price tag too high for the education of my children, and this community's children. If we need more buildings so that our students have the room and
resources they need to learn how to be productive citizens in today's world, so be it. For me, it'll be deja vu all over again.
Comments on this week's Home Front? Suggestions for a future column?
Call Tom Hernandez at (815) 886-0594 or e-mail to

Below is a response we received from a teacher.

I am not sure what teachers the author knows, but I do not know of any teachers that take home 100 papers to grade each night. I usually stay around school for an hour or two and get all my grading and planning done before I leave. I also have a couple of hours of planning time built into my day. In short, I work a pretty standard 8-9 hour day, and I only work 180 days per year (not counting summer school for which I get paid extra). At any rate, any teacher who does not like the hand they are being dealt is free to find other work - just like everyone else.

The author is also full of it when he says that 120 voters stood in the way of the tax increase. That was the margin of the referendum's defeat. There were far more voters that stood behind that 120 to make it a majority. At any rate, if even one property owner objected to it, I think he should have the right not to pay. Let those voting for the increase pay the increase, and let the rest keep what is rightfully theirs.

Finally, if the district is growing so rapidly, its property tax base must also be growing. Given skyrocketing property values and the fact that new construction is not subject to the tax caps, there should be plenty of new revenue to fund those schools without an increase, and even if that is not the case, let the people who want the new schools fund the new schools.

Go Sox!

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