Most public school teachers like to be liked.
Teachers who are liked by students have a leg up on effectively conveying information to them and inspiring those young minds.
Teachers who are liked by parents will have fewer problems with them.
Teachers who are liked by their colleagues can expect greater opportunities for collaboration.
Teachers who are liked by school principals likewise might benefit when opportunities for promotions arise.
When teachers go on strike, as they did Thursday in Dixon, their likability is threatened.
Walking the picket line, after all, isn’t what they were hired to do.
Walking the picket line, instead of teaching, disrupts the lives of 2,781 students, their families, school support personnel, bus drivers, and others whose lives revolve around schools.
And, like it or not, the teachers strike is about one thing.
Wages and benefits.
Teachers want to be paid more money.
They want to protect the benefits they have.
They want to protect the pension-boosting system they have.
People who want more money from taxpayers, and go on strike to pursue it, risk their public image.
So, teachers put forth other reasons for walking off the job.
For example, they said they want class sizes to be smaller.
They want more special ed instructors.
They said there aren’t enough textbooks, and some of them are old.
They mention the cold classrooms, the limits placed on photocopying, and the need for better technology.
As motorists whiz past the pickets, people honk and cheer for those likable teachers.
We like the teachers, too.
They’re a well-educated, well-trained bunch. They work hard to pass this generation’s knowledge on to the next generation.
But make no mistake about it.
The strike is not about books, technology, class sizes, and photocopies.
The strike is all about money.
If it wasn’t – if money was just one of multiple points of contention – teachers might be expected to trade their demands for raises and benefits for more books, better technology, smaller class sizes, and more photocopies.
We don’t expect that to happen.
If the school district lets loose its purse strings on salaries, those other issues will evaporate.
Just as teachers say money is not their sole objective, the school board pleads that its money may run out. With sound stewardship, that’s quite unlikely.
But “pleading poor” is part of the posture of collective bargaining – for both sides. In Dixon, projected deficits have turned into actual surpluses, which have helped to build a healthy operating balance, a sign of prudent management of tax dollars.
The combined instructional salaries and benefits for Dixon teachers in the current budget add up to $15,279,160. The average teacher salary, not counting benefits, is about $62,000.
A recent teacher bargaining position sought annual salary and benefit increases of about $2 million. Through negotiations, that number might be lower by now.
But teachers are no longer poorly compensated, as they once were. Their pay-and-benefits package is at least comparable to similarly trained professionals in this market. Whether teachers’ compensation is “fair” is a subjective matter being objectively hashed out at the bargaining table.
So, let both sides get past the posturing.
Focus on the money, and find common ground.
That’s what this strike is all about, anyway.
Like it or not.