Some see Chicago teacher strike influence in Evergreen Park walkout
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org October 5, 2012 4:52PM
How average teacher salary in Evergreen Park District 124 compares with other area elementary school districts.
District 124 — The average salary is $62,875, and teachers have an average of 15.8 years of teaching experience.
Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 — Average salary is $64,467, average teaching experience 11.9 years.
Ridgeland School District 122 — Average salary is $52,438, average experience 10.4 years.
Alsip, Hazelgreen, Oak Lawn School District 126 — Average salary $56,887, average experience 10.6 years.
Atwood Heights School District 125 — Average salary $47,072, average experience 11.8 years.
Burbank School District 111 — Average salary $49,555, average experience 11 years.
Chicago Public Schools — Average salary $71,236, average experience 13.7 years.
Sources: Illinois State Board of Education, Northern Illinois University.
Updated: November 8, 2012 11:59AM
Fresh off their own strike, more than a dozen teachers who work in the Chicago Public Schools system, in a show of solidarity, joined a rally last week for striking teachers in Evergreen Park.
“Yes, you can stand up for your rights,” one of the Chicago educators said.
To what, if any, degree the Chicago strike encouraged Evergreen Park teachers to walk off the job Oct. 2 is debatable. But organized labor experts said they see a possible correlation.
“When you look at Evergreen Park and Lake Forest — two school districts that have never had a strike in their history — the timing of it is kind of interesting,” said Cheryl Luczak, an assistant professor at St. Xavier University in Chicago. “There has been talk about teachers unions (elsewhere) being empowered through observing the Chicago teachers’ strike.”
Educators in other districts frustrated they’re not making headway through traditional channels “are more inclined to consider (strike) as a viable option,” particularly “when they see that others have done it and it doesn’t lead to disaster,” said Robert Bruno, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of that school’s labor education program.
Melissa Rehfield said she believes the Chicago walkout inspired District 124 teachers, secretaries and aides, such as herself.
“I think (Chicago teachers) let us know we can do this. They showed us we can fight for what we need, that we can do it,” said Rehfield, an aide at Northeast School.
Seeing Chicago’s teachers walk the picket line “motivated us,” said Mary Zofke, a teacher at Northeast School.
The strike “is not just standing up for us, it’s standing up for every working person, not just unions,” she said. “People all over the country are being stomped on. The middle class is being eliminated.”
Pat Cosi, a special services teacher at Central Junior High School, ridiculed the notion that District 124 teachers somehow took their cue from what happened in Chicago.
“We are not Chicago. We are our own separate entity,” Cosi said. “I don’t think (the Chicago Teachers Union) beat City Hall.”
Winning hearts and minds
In any school strike, both teachers and district officials aim to win the public sympathy battle. Teachers will argue that any pay raises are, in part, an investment in the students’ education. Administrators, on the other hand, will say they’re being fiscally prudent with residents’ tax dollars in resisting the union’s salary demands.
Declining tax revenue and shrinking state reimbursements are also putting financial pressures on school districts, some of which “cannot honor the types of contracts that they’ve (teachers) had before,” Luczak said.
The teachers, Luczak said, need to get the word out to the community about specifically what they’re asking for and why. Conversely, the district needs to communicate its stance, particularly its financial position, to residents, she said.
“Their (District 124) financial cushion has been reported as being very high,” Luczak said. “The school board needs to be very transparent to the public about that.”
Bruno said that in any school strike, residents have much more of a personal attachment to the teachers who are educating their children, as opposed to a steelworker who goes on strike or an assembly line worker who walks off the job at a particular car company.
“There are plenty of other cars I can buy, and I don’t have a relationship with you, just the product,” he said. “But a teacher, that person may have been to my house.”
There can be an undercurrent of resentment, particular among parents who’ve seen their own wages stagnate during the recession, or have gone from a dual-income household to having just one wage earner. Bruno said that as long as teachers can make a strong case for salary bumps, parents will back them.
“If I think the teachers are justified in asking for X or Y because it’s an investment in my child, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve gotten a pay raise,” he said.
Still, as parents scramble to find someone to watch their kids while teachers walk a picket line, the annoyance factor increases, Luczak said.
“The longer the strike goes on, it’s going to work against the teachers rather than in favor of the teachers,” she said.