Class in history, economics for strike-idled students


As the East St. Louis teacher strike hits Day 16 of no kids in school, it seems there is a dearth of motivation. The 6,100 students should provide plenty of motivation to end this, but they apparently drop from the equation when everything centers on self-interest instead of the greater good.

Paychecks have stopped for the secretaries and other non-certified union members who work all year, but the mechanism that spreads teacher pay throughout the year, instead of stopping during summer vacation, will give teachers a full check on Oct. 31 as well as a partial check on Nov. 15.

Teachers have yet to feel any pain. Must the students remain out of school until they do?

East St. Louis Senior High School senior George Baker spoke eloquently before the school board Tuesday night. He asked the board “to give as much as it possibly can because education is priceless. If that means going broke, I can live with that.”

George likely has a bright future, but allow us to substitute teach a little history and economics.

East St. Louis School District 189 has for decades made disastrous financial decisions. Twice within the past 25 years the state has had to step in to do what local leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t do: balance the budget, have a reserve fund, and curb the corruption that led to incompetence, patronage and outright theft.

Fiscal sanity appears to finally be in sight, and those gains are worth fighting to protect.

The economics have been outlined by Superintendent Arthur Culver. There is a pie, and it is only so big. If teachers get more, their colleagues get less – the colleagues who have been without raises in seven years.

Teachers may claim they have gone without for five years, but in reality every one of them has gotten a raise as they have advanced up the steps that add money to their paychecks for each year of experience and each academic degree. They really want to take bigger pay steps, and to reach the top in 11 years instead of 21. Twenty-one years is much closer to the norm, and striking teachers’ colleagues in Cahokia take 25 years to hit the top of their salary schedule

Also, if the board seeks more in property taxes from the residents already paying the state’s highest school tax rate, then fewer people will invest in better housing and more people will join the flight. The city once had about 80,000 residents and is now at about 26,000.

Culver and the board need to get George and his peers back in school, but no one should live with the district going broke. Again, find those willing to teach for an ample wage seems to be the path forward.