With whom should we be upset? — 3/17/2010

March 17, 2010:

Discussion here (and at the RB Landmark site) over RB’s fiscal crisis has become something of a pro- or anti-union dialogue.

Some posters, including those with family ties to RB employees, find a way to say everything is fine, we should just pay more. Others joust with the union’s role and talk about its insensitivity to us, its funders.

I suggest that this misses the key point.

The union does not represent us (unless — like some who comment here — we personally benefit from the collective bargaining agreement, a point on which I have requested from all, but not yet received, transparent disclosure; please draw your own conclusions).

The Board represents us.

And this Board majority has let us down.

The union represents its members, it is accountable to them.

Given the terms of the existing contract, a completely objective observer might well conclude that the union is doing better at representing its members than the Board is doing at representing us and our ability to pay.

(At some level it is good to know we have smart teachers, even if it appears they are smarter than our elected representatives.)

It must never go without saying, and I repeat here, we as a community are very fortunate to have some first-class, grade-A, top-line teaching talent at RB. Jack Baldermann had a certain inspiring dimension, and he used it to bring some terrific teachers to RB. Others of our teaching elite pre-date Jack’s tenure. David Bonnette, as upright and dedicated an educator one may ever hope to find, has — in recruitment cycle terms — only just arrived.

My personal feeling is that ignoring such teaching talent, such that it departs, is counter-productive of the results and aims most of us share. (My two cents on shared aims are in a suggested mission statement back up this thread.)

So going anti-union or, worse, anti-teacher, in this distressed moment is an error.

It is the Board that deserves our scrutiny.

The majority on this Board agreed to the contract. Some of them had just won re-election, brandishing their teachers’ union endorsement (again, smart teachers). Not one of those Board members has denied that they knew at the time they voted — binding us in their legal act — that they did not have the money to pay for the contract.

Within one year they borrowed $4.9 million from future revenues, at a premium, to fund the contract. Now we have to pay for the contract and the debt service and the principal on the $4.9 million, which further diminishes our disposable income.

In a telling insult, the same majority refused to submit its $4.9 million borrow-and-spend program to us in a referendum. 1800 voters asked them to do so. In essence, they gave themselves new revenue by ignoring us. (It is the depletion of the $4.9 million that has brought the fiscal crisis into view, but we have in fact been in crisis since before the borrowing.)

Finally, the Board majority acknowledges none of this, let alone apologizes for any specifics.

The canonical Board contextualization of the crisis goes like this: “We care about RB. That means we have to pick up the slack because the state has not funded us as it should, and the county is getting less reliable at sending our proceeds to us, and more unpredictable about property tax appeals. This is the substance of keeping up with Hinsdale, Lyons and OPRF. The only question is when you will pay more.”

Not one of them has said, “This was the right deal at the time. We knew the economy was shaky and we knew our funds were considerably less than what we were obligating ourselves to do, but we knew you would ride to the rescue…,” etc. They wrote the check and hoped we would pay the overdraft.

From all of this each of us may draw his or her own conclusions about the majority on this Board.

My conclusion is they either do not know what they are doing, or they do — and they do not care about its impact on us.

I do not like either conclusion, but there they are.

There is also something of a general call for being Good Bulldogs and pulling the sled another 1000 miles, just like the Iditarod race dogs I once had the privilege of covering as a reporter.

This appeal draws on perfectly normal and appropriate community and institutional pride — and seeks to transform it into uncritical acceptance and political support for the totality of RB-dom, regardless of — in its view — minor flaws down the line.

To this one may recite from this partial litany:

–The prior superintendent certification fiasco

–The $700,000 wasted on the Paw and Cyberdog without so much a curricular plan or follow-up report fiasco

–The assistant principal and five teachers lacking certification fiasco

–The awarding of expensive health benefits to part-timers with no discernable work records fiasco

–The prior superintendent final exit fiasco

–The prior superintendent affair – denial – investigation – admission – hand-slapping fiasco

–The welcoming of a bonded-out indictee for drug possession with intent to deliver as a volunteer wrestling coach fiasco

–The belligerence of the AD toward all who asked him to secure the soccer goalposts so they would not clonk a child on the head and severely injure or perhaps kill him fiasco (this Dr. Bonnette settled in about three days after four years of ceaseless hostility to parents and disregard for student safety)

–The institutional hostility to and disregard for Illinois Freedom of Information Act, so pointed it earned special rebuke by a statewide watchdog group in January 2009 fiasco

Etc. etc. etc.

Let me assure you, the Iditarod sled dogs are fed better than we Bulldog taxpayers, if this list — and its many other items — be our gruel from RB.

Such a litany of management failure proves this Board majority is in considerably over its head. Rewarding it with any increase in public funds is fraught with peril. Bad public management should never be rewarded with additional taxpayer revenue. A string like the above – regardless of the great things that happen because of our core of competent teachers — is impossible to explain away. That’s why the Good Bulldog argument rests on ignoring the failures.

No one cares more about RB — or any local public institution — than the volunteers who help it improve. It is no fun to point out failure (especially when one’s child is a student), but nothing stops RB and its Board majority from admitting its own failures and adopting continuous learning and improvement on its own.

Even then, it is in the nature of democratic accountability that praise, as I have voiced for this same majority, and the minority, uniting to hire Dr. Bonnette, be tempered with clear appreciation of the bumps along the way.

Such as a contract that — with step increases — raises salaries more than 30 percent over five years, in the midst of the worst recession in seven decades, that we do not have the money to fund. All credit to the teachers, they caught us sleeping — or worse — on that one.

My conclusion? Don’t attack teachers or their union — find better Board members next spring.


Explore posts in the same categories: Riverside Brookfield High School -- Turnaround

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