Peoria Journal Star

Teachers: Brady plan unrealistic

Thursday, September 09, 2010

PEORIA — A plan proposed by Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady to freeze teachers' salaries to help close the state budget deficit was viewed skeptically Wednesday by area educators.

The state senator from Bloomington wants to cut a dime out of every dollar to close the deficit and suggested freezing teachers' salaries as a means to do so.

"The cuts that we've talked - a dime in every dollar - would reduce overall education funding by 2 to 3 percent," Brady said last week at a campaign appearance at a Springfield business. "Local school districts could absorb that by maybe not offering the pay raises that they've put in place."

Tom McLaughlin, field representative with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said Brady is not taking into account that many districts already have asked employees to take freezes or only minimal raises.

"It is faulty for Mr. Brady to believe contracts do not need to be honored. To suggest cutting teachers' pay is the appropriate way to balance the budget - that suggests to me that teachers are overpaid and I believe by in large that is not the case," he said.

Teachers in Peoria School District 150 are among those that have had their pay frozen, said Bob Darling, president of the Peoria Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 1,000 teachers in the district.

He said Brady's proposal will lead only to a greater disparity in education funding among school districts across the state.

"How can you cut out a billion dollars and not affect students? It's not very realistic to me. There are so many special services schools are required by law to provide - to students with disabilities, special ed students, transportation - and who it will really affect is the inner-city students more than anywhere else," Darling said. "Those areas with high property tax (wealth) will not be affected; it will be those who rely more on the state like Peoria - the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and be left behind."

Nick Polyak, superintendent at Illinois Valley Central District 321 in Chillicothe, said Brady's plan is unlikely to be implemented.

"It would have to be through the legislature - local school districts have contracts with our teachers we have to uphold and would have to be renegotiated," Polyak said, "so unless he can get the legislature to approve something - but who is going to vote for that?"

Abby Humbles, superintendent at Norwood Grade School District 63, agreed.

"Wow, I think he will have a hard time getting the unions on board," Humbles said in an e-mail Wednesday. "They have already stripped down the pension system, 'borrowed' from the pension system, (and) the early retirement option is likely to expire in 2012. How about they tax the legislators or take some of their retirement away, or make them use Social Security or TRS?"

Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, which has endorsed Gov. Pat Quinn, said Brady's idea would "trample all over collective bargaining agreements across the state."

"The fact of the matter is that there are places in this state where school funding has been inadequate for a long time," Swanson said. "There are some districts where our members have agreed to sacrifices. That is not something that should be imposed from the top down by a candidate...who's looking for a way to make the facts fit his terrible proposal."

Quinn has modified his own education-funding proposal to raise the income tax from 3 percent to 4 percent for schools. Such a tax increase would raise roughly $3 billion. Quinn said recently he would couple the income tax increase with some sort of property tax relief, which reduces the amount of money available to schools.

Brady spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Brady was simply offering a potential solution and not saying that he would seek to impose a statewide pay freeze.

"That was an option," Schuh said of the pay freezes. "If taxpayers are not willing to give you more money, than you've got to live with what you have. He's a local control guy. If a school district has 'X' to work with, they have to decide how much toilet paper to buy, they have to decide how many teacher's aides to hire . . . and they have to decide whether to ask their teachers whether to forgo a pay raise."

McLaughlin called on the need for revenue increases, specifically by hiking income taxes.

Ken Maurer, superintendent at Metamora Township High School District 122, said schools need to be part of the solution to the budget crisis.

"The state should make the reduction in dollars to the schools. The state should leave it up to the local schools to decide how to deal with the reductions. The state should not be in the business of telling local schools where they need to reduce their expenditures," Maurer said.

"Our theme ought to be 'when you are in a hole, stop digging."

"I say to the state. Make the reductions. Schools want to be part of the solution. Quit telling us lies and promising money that will not be appropriated. We all need to work together to stop the digging."