Friday, June 24, 2011

When is a financial gesture worthwhile?

The Illinois Legislature has voted for a cost-cutting gesture that truly is miniscule in nature – they froze their own pay at current levels and also will take 12 days off without pay.

I call it miniscule because the total money that would be saved doesn’t amount to much. Yet we’re going to have our state legislators walking around, pounding their chests and boasting about how they took a personal cut – all in the name of helping state government work its way out of the financial deficit it currently faces.

I’D WANT TO pound on the Legislature’s collective ego, smacking them about a bit and telling them how they need to accept reality and find the backbone to find the additional income needed to balance out the state’s budget.

Having our legislators give themselves 12 extra days off from their government work (which technically is a part-time, although time-consuming, job) isn’t going to fix our state’s mess. It may give them more time to play golf.

There are some cuts to be made. But it is going to take a combination of the two. People ranting and raging for budget cuts for ideological reasons aren’t going to accomplish much. A part of me wants to say that our legislators are living in a world of fantasy (you know, the one where the Chicago Cubs are a mighty, pennant-winning dynasty) and need to be woken up with a swift smack across the cheeks.

But then, I look at the activities of Chicago Public Schools officials from earlier this week and realize that the Legislature’s token gesture (which still needs approval from Gov. Pat Quinn before it can take effect) truly is better than nothing – even though it amounts to little more.

I’M NOT SURE which action offends me more – the fact that the school board decided it didn’t want to honor the contract it negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union that called for educators to receive raises in coming years?

Or was it the pay raises that were given to assorted high-ranking positions within the Chicago schools’ administration?

Now ideologically, I’m one of those people who wants to dump all over those individuals who want to blame organized labor for all that is wrong with our society, and who look for chances to mess with labor unions whenever they come up.

Those are the people who are happy that the school board recently voted on a measure saying they would not pay out the 4 percent raises that teachers are supposed to receive during the upcoming school year.

SCHOOL OFFICIALS CONTEND that the $712 million in deficit that the Chicago Public Schools budget faces is so severe that they can’t afford the raises – even though they negotiated that contract in good faith and should be expected to honor its terms.

It’s not like anyone would be sympathetic to teachers if the school district suddenly came into wealth and the union tried demanding a share of it. When the contract expires and it is time to negotiate a new deal, that is when school officials should play political hardball and refuse to grant new raises – if not demanding something resembling a pay cut.

Times may be that financially demanding, and I have noticed many government entities approving new contracts that do not provide for any pay raises – on the theory that not laying anyone off is enough of a financial concession. So I could side with a hard-nosed approach come negotiation time.

But pulling this stunt now is just cheap. When combined with this week’s act, it comes across as venal.

THAT “ACT” WAS the same school board approving a measure that raises the salaries of five high-ranking positions. Because we’re at a point where we have a new Chicago Public Schools CEO, it means we have a lot of new high-ranking schools officials.

They’re all going to be getting anywhere from $20,000 more per year to $50,000 per year than the person who held the jobs back when Richard M. Daley was mayor.

Technically, nobody is getting a raise. But we do have a lot of new people who will be paid more money to do the same jobs as their predecessors. I don’t sense that anybody who recently got hired is THAT MUCH more significantly qualified than who they’re replacing.

It just comes across as administration thinking they’re worth more than the people who actually do the daily work of trying either to educate the students who rely on the public school system or to keep the less-motivated ones from dropping off the face of our society.

WHICH IS WHY I was sympathetic to those teachers who chose earlier this week to picket the school board meeting; even though some people tried to misdirect attention to the fact that these schools executives’ salaries were public information while the salaries of Chicago Teachers Union leadership was not.

What is the ultimate evidence that the Chicago Public Schools officials have done something that, while legal, is cheesy and improper?

By comparison, they make the Illinois General Assembly look ethical and morally superior.


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