I want to be clear; I speak only for myself in this letter to the editor.
I recently voted “YES” for administration and non-union support staff to get a 2.5 percent raise. District 202 has really tightened its belt over the last 5 years as the State of Illinois’ financial situation has gone in to the pits. In that time, I reluctantly voted for almost every cut that came before me, trying to walk the very delicate line between balancing the budget and preserving a strong academic and support system for our students. Those cuts have included about 345 full-time teaching, support and administrative positions.
The proposals that I did not support were when changes would have actually added costs back in to the budget. School districts continue to see uncertainty on the financial horizon. At the same time we have asked our administrators to do more, with less resources and support. Yet we have not eliminated or even reduced our administrators’ responsibilities. One administrator that I know was working until 11 pm on evaluations just the other night. That example is more the norm than the exception.
When the Business Department recently did comparisons of our administration pay to our neighboring districts, District 202 was last in a number of categories. Using principals, as an example, the number of students in their school makes a huge difference in their day. District 202 has larger Elementary Schools than most comparable districts. Most District 202 elementary schools are between 800 and 900 students. These schools at times have had many more students than they do now. Most other school districts have between 450 and 600 students. As a result, when we do not support our principals and administrative staff financially, they begin to look at opportunities to go elsewhere. And some have. A principal that I have known for a number of years took a modest salary increase when she left and she now has just over 400 students in her school and much less staff to manage. Each administrator in District 202 has more to do and less recourses with which to do their job. Sometimes that counts double for our confidential secretaries, directors and other non-unions support staff.
I have heard some say “let them go”. We have good and dedicated people who work hard to help run the fourth largest school district in Illinois, help give our kids the best education possible and of course give our taxpayers value in the process. That means to me that I don’t waste your money.
Lots of people in the corporate world have told me that they have not gotten a raise in several years. I have empathy for their situation. What I don’t want to happen here in District 202 is that we turn our education system into the new big box store mentality where cheaper is better. Cheaper in education is not better. Our people are very highly educated and very talented and they know our system. On their resume, it also says that they worked in the 4th largest school district in Illinois. That is a big plus! The most talented people can go anywhere and work in education. I want the most talented educational staff to work in our town, at our schools, and for our kids. Not in Georgia, Iowa or Indiana where they are now looking for highly talented educators and in some cases paying a lot more.
My question to you our taxpayers is, “What is it that you want?” Ultimately, your answer is what counts. Do you want District 202 to have the cheapest education or something better for your children and grandchildren? Personally, I want the best education for my grandchildren that we can afford to give them. I have worked as a volunteer Board of Education member for 16 + years to offer our students the best future possible. I have never made my decisions based on the popular sentiment. I have always made decisions on what I thought was best for our students. I am practical in that I don’t want to lose our good people. The $315,000 in raises for administrators and non-union support staff that the Board of Education could have approved was already budgeted in this year’s budget. It would have also gone a long way toward showing these hard-working and valuable employees that we do appreciate them and want them to stay. That’s the same message we gave our teachers and union support staff when we gave them the exact same percentage raise earlier this year. As it turns out we sent our administrators and non-union support staff an entirely different message – one that might not have been intended and does not reflect their real value to District 202. I thought you might want to know why I voted the way I did. Again, what is it that you as taxpayers want?
Michael E. Kelly
District 202 Board of Education Member 1997-2013