Updated: November 18, 2012 7:09AM
In hindsight, most public teachers’ strikes seem unnecessary because the final deal typically resembles what could have been reached all along. Much of the agreement is within grasp before the strike.
Historically, strikes occur because school boards want to show their resolute commitment to fiscal responsibility. But some boards and officials now see themselves as more than fiscal guardians — they’re reformers out to save public education by forcing teachers to swallow major concessions.
The lessons of both the Chicago teachers’ strike and the just-settled one in Evergreen Park School District 124 are that teachers are tired of being made the scapegoats for public education’s ills and that animosity between them and their employers is growing.
All public school strikes get settled, usually quickly, after both sides figure out how much time, money and ego to fritter away. There is almost never any money that did not exist before. Under mounting pressure from parents and the community, the school boards often give in.
That was the case in Chicago and Evergreen Park, even in ritzy Lake Forest as well, but there’s an undercurrent of resentment among schoolteachers that could lead to more frequent strikes. Worried about their pensions, frustrated by attempts to remove their extra pay for seniority and educational advancement and angered by calls to link their job performance largely to test scores, teachers are circling the wagons.
We draw two conclusions about the strikes in Chicago and Evergreen Park. The school boards forced the teachers to walk out by making demands they saw as politically popular but that were unrealistic. And faced with strong parental support for the teachers, the boards blinked because the unions would not.
The national debate over public education and the power of teachers unions has teachers more united than ever, and if our local results are any measure, parents value teachers more than the critics. That’s a losing hand for school boards, and pushing teachers to strike and keeping kids out of class is the worst bet of all.