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Our View: Circling the wagons

Updated: November 19, 2012 3:26PM

In hindsight, most public teachers’ strikes seem unnecessary because the final deal typically resembles what could have been reached all along. Much of the agreement is within grasp before the walkout.

Historically, strikes occur because school boards want to show their resolute commitment to fiscal responsibility. But some boards and officials now see themselves as more than fiscal guardians — they’re reformers out to save public education by forcing teachers to swallow major concessions.

The lessons of both the Chicago teachers’ strike and the just-settled job actions in the Lake Forest High School District and North Shore District 112 in Highland Park and Highwood, are that teachers are tired of being made the scapegoats for public education’s ills and that animosity between them and their employers is growing.

All public school strikes get settled, usually quickly, after both sides figure out how much time, money and ego to fritter away. There is almost never any money that did not exist before. Under mounting pressure from parents and the community, the unpaid school board members often give in.

That was the case in Lake County’s two recent strikes, but there’s an undercurrent of resentment among school teachers that could lead to more frequent strikes. Teachers at Grayslake Grade School District 46 could be the next ones to man a picket line after overwhelmingly voting to strike if no contract is reached. Indeed, teachers in Millburn Grade School District 24 have decided to join the Lake County Federation of Teachers union in their contract negotiations.

Worried about their pensions, frustrated by attempts to remove their extra pay for seniority and educational advancement, and angered by calls to link their job performance largely to test scores, teachers are circling the wagons.

We draw two conclusions about the spate of strikes in the region. The school boards forced the teachers to walk out by making demands they saw as politically popular, but that were unrealistic. And faced with strong parental support for the teachers, or at least the inconvenience of finding alternatives to having their kids in schools, the boards blinked because the unions would not.

The national debate over public education and the power of teachers’ unions has teachers more united than ever, and if our local results are any measure, parents value teachers, or at least having their kids in school instead of roaming the streets, more than the critics. That’s a losing hand for school boards.

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