BY EMILY LUCIA
Talk of a strike had been a much discussed topic at the start of the 2014-2015 school year in Highland, Ill. But despite relentless efforts from both the school board and the teachers, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, the teachers of Highland CUSD #5 voted to strike. On
Thursday, Sept. 11th, the strike began. As a result, quite the controversy among the students, parents, and alumni from the district has arisen, dividing the community. While the majority of people support the teachers, there are many citizens that feel that the teachers are abandoning the students, some even going so far as to posting hateful messages online and spouting rude comments to the teachers themselves.
According to the Highland Illinois Teachers’ Association (HIEA)’s Facebook page, the teachers have requested that the school board honors the step that they were promised when they were hired. A step is a pay increase for the years of service a teacher completes. To show the drastic need for the school board to honor these steps, the administrators of the Facebook page stated “A teacher hired this year at HCUSD who has taught in another school district for 6 years is hired in at step 6 on the salary schedule, but a teacher who has dedicated the same 6 years of service to HCUSD is being told by [the school board] to stay at step 5.” So it is to be understood that with the exception of the new teachers, the veteran teaching staff was being paid less than they should have been. Many members of the Highland community agree that this is because there is no money in the school district to cover this step increase.
Kelsey Hoyt, an alumni from Highland High School, now a teacher herself slightly sympathetic for the teachers. “As a teacher myself, I understand that we are grossly underpaid and under-appreciated,” she responded. But she also supports the students and their education, which is caught in the middle of the dispute. “Highland teachers seem to be forgetting exactly why they went into teaching in the first place: for the love of kids and bettering their education. People always say that we aren’t in it for the money, and the truth is, none of us are.”
On Saturday, Sept. 13, a group of students met at the Highland Square (a central park in the city), to peacefully protest the strike. Many held signs stating that they want to be back in the classroom. “As an educator, it breaks my heart to see these kids deprived of what they need most in today’s world: helping hand. So yes, it’s true– Teachers are underpaid and deserve more, hands down. But is it fair to take away what the students need most right now, just to have some extra cash in our pockets?” Hoyt commented, furthering the point that the students are the ones that are the most impacted in the situation.
Sheila Riggs, a parent in the school district, on the other hand, voiced her support for the school board. “I am more pleased by how the [Board of Education] are conducting themselves. They are worried about the budget (a problem that I, personally, think they created themselves). I think they should stick to their guns on this. There is no money to give more. We already have to cut [programs].” Riggs stated.
According to a school board member who would like to remain anonymous, these facts are true.
Riggs also mentioned that she understands where the teachers are coming from but blames their union representative for the longevity and poor deals of the strike. “ I am good friends with a lot of teachers who really just feel that the Union is misleading and/or using them. I think that their representative, Shianne Shively did them a huge disservice last weekend with the meeting. One parent said it best: They should quit their union and put the 10% they pay in union dues toward a good PR agent because too many parents and students have lost respect for them.”
Mindy Allen, a senior at McKendree majoring in Secondary Education commented on how this strike affects the education students at McKendree. “As an education major, I feel like I know what I’m getting into. Although funding for education is not where it should be, I don’t think education majors should be scared off.” While she understands where the teachers are coming from, Allen agreed with many commentators that teaching should be about the students rather than the pay.
Another McKendree student, Hope Waters, a music education major had something similar to say. “I have always known going into education that I was not going to be rich. I knew that [education] was going to be a lot of work for low pay compared to other jobs. However it was not the reason why I went into music education.” Waters also understood why the teachers were striking but like Allen and Hoyt, she states that she is going into education to help students develop skills that they will be able to use in their future. “Because of my experience with going through the classes and process of getting the degree, I realized that it is hard, I couldn’t even imagine doing it every day for your job with the pressures of keeping up with the ever changing standards and to help keep funds for your school, or in my case the constant fear of keeping my job due to budget cuts of non-core classes such as music.”
Riggs also had advice for future educators, “In our current economy, future educators should 1.) Not put their faith in Unions that truly do not have their best interest at heart, 2.) Be grateful for the job and the salary you have because it CAN be worse, and 3.) Know that the intangibles outweigh whatever monetary compensation you can fight for and that respect comes from making the right decisions for the ones who matter the most: the kids.”
Hoyt also had a few notes of advice, “Think a little less about the bills, the clothes, and all other material things and think more about what is truly important in this world. Think about how you as a teacher have the ability to impact your student’s lives every day, and think about all the time you are losing with them add the hours tick by. Each day without school is a day without hope for the future.”
On Thursday Sept. 18th the strike ended and school resumed the next day. With hopes that everyone could put the situation behind them, the community and the teachers returned to caring about the most important thing: the education of the students.