After at least an hour and a half of public comment and fifteen minutes of power point information from the school board’s side, the McHenry High School Board and its teacher union went back into negotiations behind closed doors.
According to teacher union President Brian Nelson, $375,000 separates the two sides.
Students dedicated to their teachers headed up those making presentations.
“These teachers are my family,”a senior named Cassidy testified.
She said she had walked 46 miles, delivered sixty sandwiches, attended all the rallies and had blisters on her feet.
There was tumultuous applause.
None took the taxpayers point of view.
Adult Joe Mercurio did.
Saying he worked for one of biggest companies in the country, he said, “Public service employee unions want a 3% salary increase and health benefits paid for fully.”
He said that was not happening in the private sector.
Since the recession began, he reported the value of his McHenry home had gone down 45%, but his taxes were up 6%.
“Please stay the course,” he urged the Board.
There was applause, but much less than for the high school students.
He was followed by more students extolling the virtues of their teachers, present and in the recent past.
One named Amber, who seemed to have just finished student teaching in Marengo, attested to the low salary schedule in McHenry.
“McHenry falls quite short on that list,” said she had found in her job search.
Cayla, a 17-year old high school student continued with that theme.
“My teachers deserve to be paid competitively.”
Her mother Kim asked the Board to be “fiscally responsible,” while protecting “our savings and our [teacher] development.”
“None of you have children here,” she forcefully pointed out.
“You have no skin in the game,” she continued, while calling for increasing salaries so McHenry would not continue to be a training ground for other school districts.
McHenry Grade School teacher Cari told the Board and the administration, “These teachers will be around long after you are gone.
“The teachers have chosen to take the high road in this strike. The Board has taken the low road.”
Lisa Stack, described herself as a parent and taxpayer.
Not “discounting what all you teachers do,” she said, there is only “three months [money] in the bank.
“You are being offered salaries that are unheard of.
“You are being offered health care that as a taxpayer I don’t have.
“I am afraid of the repercussions to my son [of speaking out].” she concluded.
[As the son of a father how opposed a bond issue for an addition to Crystal Lake Community High School way back in 1959 or 1960, I remember well two teachers standing in the hall next to the big study hall looking my way and talking.]
That was followed by an emotional statement by student Ryan.
As he was breaking up, a reading and English teacher went up to support him.
A woman Ricki said she was making $10,000 less this year than last, nevertheless wanted the Board to spend enough to keep teachers from leaving District 156.
She also chided supporters of the School Board asking them to “stop the animosity being created by your supporters on social media.”
Catherine Cohn (sp?), a 21-year resident, admonished the administration for not having a contingency plan.
She said the current contract allowed teachers to continue with their extracurricular duties, but the administration would not allow that.
Wonder Lake (Harrison) Grade School Board member Bob Anderson, a former high school board member in the 1980’s, used the board to “stay the course.”
He said his tax bill on his barber shop was now $10,000.
“When my family came here in 1947, houses cost $10,000.
“When students are my age will their tax bill be $100,000?” he asked.
“Everybody knows teacher teacher strikes are for salary and benefits, not for the children.” Anderson concluded.
Local businessman Phil Belyaev, who taught two years at the university level, told the Board,
“I think the offer you made was extremely generous.”
He referred to the Prospect Heights School Board having eliminated step increases.
“Under no circumstances should you agree to pay 100% [of the health insurance]without knowing what the cost will be.”
He said the picket line had a “party atmosphere,” adding that the teachers were “cheapening” the stories of gratitude and respect for teachers being delivered in the public comment period.
High school teacher Stephanie Lucas (sp?) spoke next. She has taught math for nine years and extolled the willingness to teachers to help students even during lunch hour.
She pointed out that 401 of the 684 students who took advanced placement course passed them last year.
Another teacher, Mike, explained that his wife as a real estate agent.
“Housing values are not recovering as quickly in McHenry as in Crystal Lake,” he reported.
“People are not interested in coming here because of the climate of the district.
“We spent the fewest per pupil as any district in the area,”he said.
Having started at $22,000 per year and having to work weekends to make ends meet, he said, “Average it out and I’m probbly on a par with most of the community.”
Union President Nelson criticized the Board for wanting “to degrade our salary schedule because it isn’t sustainable.”
He pointed out that the amount spent on teacher salaries has been “flat.”
The $375,000 now in contention is “1/10 of 1% of district’s overall budget.”
Student Taylor Gordon found it “disheartening that our teachers are not valued [enough].”
David Barrett took the taxpayers’ side.
“This is not about the teachers…It has to be about financial responsibility.”
He pointed out that per capita income in McHenry County was $32,000, while teachers’ average salary was $70,000 per year.
[This appears to be comparing apples to oranges, since the average teacher with a wife not working would have a $30,000 per capita income.]
Barrett pointed out that test scores haven’t gone up.
“They’ve stayed level.
“Graduation rates have stayed level. They haven’t gone up.”
Retired banker Pete Keller told of a WGN-TV interview in which a Board spokesman was asked what the Board was willing to movd on now?
Keller found the answer–“None”– to be unacceptable.
“I ask the school board to negotiate with an open mind.”
Coach and teacher Dave DeAngelo has been in the district since 1974.
“When I started my peers were making more in the corporate world,” he said.
A parent of a District 156 teacher named Dave said he was a former school board member.
He then read from some publication from the Illinois Association of School Boards and then offered this challenge:
“If any of the school board members cannot follow these [guidelines], I call for your resignation.”
Bill Preston reviewed the bad financial situation the district was in five years ago.
He reminded the audience of the referendum that was held, which was “soundly defeated because they [the school board then] thought the only solution was to increase spending.
“I’d lie to that the community for voting that down because, if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have this school board.
Former teacher Ted Jenkins argued, “Good schools increase property values.”
He alluded to corruption in Illinois, which brought applause.
Nicky Gallagher, who graduated from the district and is now a cardiac nurse at Centegra said, “I am the nurse I am today because of my teachers.
“Be fair and kind to them.”
Former businessman Tom Sullivan, a 35-year resident asked, “Did we lose track of the contribution of our teachers?
“I challenge you to settle this disagreement.
Bonnie Simon wondered why the change in the salary schedule was being discussed now.
“Today is World Teachers’ Day.
“Let’s come to an agreement.”
Carl Hurtig said he had sisters who taught.
The question he contended was “chicken or steak.”
He said the “156 teachers are eating steak and I’m eating chicken.
“What is the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment)?
“How much do you want?
“Here’s the kicker.
“Your insurance will go up and I’ll have to pay for it.
“Am I stupid?
“That shows you the level of how bad the teachers are today.”
At some point during his presentation, the audience reacted negatively.
“I’ll be leaving right now because the crowd is so hostile I’m afraid for my safety,” he said and walked out the door.
Teacher and negotiator Ray Curry said the issue was “about the overall value of education.
“The contract is about how we value education.
“Our salary schedule is reasonable and sustainable.”
During the recession, he explained, the teachers “took concessions.”
“This is not a business.
“This is about a community.
“The community deserves and wants a first class education system.”
Juan Custodeo asked, “How can we ask for something that’s not there?”
A first year teacher named Willie pointed out that the members of the board do not have a voter mandate.
“10.5% of the registered voters came out.”
Part-time Pastor Catherine Irving said she was willing to “pay more of my taxes if it means [a better education].”
Andrew H., a member of Local 150 of the Operating Engineers. asked, “Why couldn’t this happen over the summer when school’s not in session?
“We’re not allow to stop when we’re on a state job.
“I have insurance, but I help pay for it.
“This insurance thing, I don’t agree with.
“It shouldn’t be paid for 100%.”
Former top area IEA union official Arne Waltmire, who ran unsuccessfully for the McHenry County College board first and, then, for the McHenry County Board as a Democrat, spoke next.
He said the district was now “a training school.”
He urged “a fair contract [to] keep good teachers.”
A second year student at McHenry County College, Jeremy, criticized a graphic that the school district had on its web site.
“Joe Teacher” purported to represent the average teacher in District 156.
“That is so petty and disgusting,” he said.
After the public comment, the school district went into a dog and pony show about the contract negotiations and the facts as it saw them.
Union members could be heard challenging the numbers put on the big screen in front.