Thursday, January 12, 2006

Alsip District 126 Referendum Discussion

The below post is from Robert Shelstorm of Southland Education Watch. He is one of our many friends fighting for education reform in the State of Illinois. This is a great example of how a well prepared speech can persuade people to vote against a referendum or at least consider voting against a referendum. This is an excellent summary of the Alsip District 126 referendum forum. Great research Bob!

Last night I attended a "public forum" regarding a 50 cent proposed tax increase for the ed fund in the District 126. Over 200 people showed up, but about 180 were teachers, administrators, and staff.

I was surprised that the board let me speak, since I didn't live in the district.

I told the group that the root problem was that the board and the union had agreed to an unsustainable plan. Teacher raises were averaging 4.1%, and average revenue growth was at about 3%. Administrators, I told the crowd, were also setting a bad example in a financially troubled district by accepting raises of 6.8% last year. The line, "How can administrators ask teachers, children, and parents to make sacrifices when they take care of themselves so well?" Actually drew some applause from the teachers.

I also pointed out a reasonable option to address this problem was not identified in the board hand outs; renegotiating the teachers contract to freeze wages to save jobs planned to be cut and adjusting the contract to allow raises to be paid from available funds from revenue growth. This would ensure student services and teacher jobs would be protected.

Surprisingly, there were no boos or blunt objects thrown at me, so I continued.

I said that as a former United Steelworker Union member, I learned that a union was like a family. When a member of the union "family" was faced with a devastating event like losing their livelihood, the union stuck together and shared the hardship to protect their brothers and sisters. Besides, even freezing salaries for a year would leave the teachers with an average 2% raise, which isn't bad in this economy.

I went on to challenge claims by the district that revenues were only growing by 1% per year, citing the 3.3% COLA for last year and the 7% per year increase in EAV per student in the last period.

I also noted that the district's enrollment has dropped by 6.5% over the last 5 years, which should free up more funds for salaries.

I brought their attention to the fact that the district had a serious problem in their non-instructional expenses. The district typically spends about $3,100 of its $7,700 per student operating expenses outside of instruction. I questioned whether the administration had done" benchmarking" comparisons with other districts such as Summit Hill 161, which spends on $1,800 per student in non-instructional expenses, to find better ways of management to avoid hurting students and staff. The administration sheepishly admitted that they hadn't.

This response brought some angry looks from the audience, including teachers, towards the Superintendent.

I concluded by saying that ultimately the decision of the community to raise or not raise taxes was more of an emotional than an analytical one, but it was clear in this instance that there were fair options that could protect student services and teacher jobs that had not been adequately explored by the board prior to calling to raise taxes.

I offered my help to the board and community if they wanted to explore ways to protect the children, parents, taxpayers, and staff without increasing taxes. I had about a half dozen people come up and ask for my card following the meeting, including some parents who originally spoke out for the tax increase, but were developing second thoughts.

I had only two "hostile" responses. One was a teacher who said "I didn't live in their community" and "he always comes out against tax increases". The other was a teacher who completely misconstrued what I said to mean "teachers are overpaid".

Bob Shelstrom

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