8/21/07

Teachers strike! Not again!

Here we go again. Harlem, Illinois teachers are on strike for the second time in three years. It doesn't have to - and shouldn't - be this way. Illinois should become one of the 24 states that prohibit teachers from going on strike.

Only 10 states allow teachers the same right to strike as private-sector workers. Illinois already has laws to prohibit strikes by workers essential to public safety and security, including police and firefighters.

Harlem teachers went on strike for nine days in 2004, which was just three years ago. The strike disrupted the start of the school year and caused the Harlem varsity football team to forfeit its season opener. The strike ended when teachers and district officials agreed to let an arbitrator settle unresolved contract terms.

Everyone loses when teachers strike. Teachers and administrators lose some of the trust and confidence the community places in them to handle the business of education fairly and in the best interest of the students.

School districts exist for only one purpose: to educate children. Educators should be able to fulfill that mission without fixating on salaries and benefits. It happens in other industries; why can't it happen in schools?

After the last teachers strike, Harlem voters resoundingly rejected a tax referendum 60 percent to 40 percent. It was the fifth time voters rejected a tax hike, but it was the largest margin of defeat.

Of course, it didn't help voter confidence when, two years later, Harlem ended the 2006 fiscal year with a $3.5 million surplus in its education fund. Perhaps that surplus encouraged teachers.

It's understandable that Harlem teachers want to get paid on par with their peers in Rockford and the rest of the state. It's also understandable that district administrators want to be good stewards with taxpayer money. What we can’t understand is how it got to this point.

Administrators were confident kids would not miss any school, but the union declined to meet with administrators Monday, killing any hopes of a last-minute deal.

Labor and management failed. They squandered the opportunity to demonstrate how differences can be settled with communication and compromise without getting to the worst-case strike scenario.

This happens too often. There ought to be a law so students can be confident that back to school means back to school.

(rrstar.com)

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