Smile Politely

Mahomet-Seymour back to school today

The teacher’s strike in Mahomet filled the news Thursday and Friday. The collective action by 200 teachers and 120 support staff pushed through an agreement that had been in the works since February.

I nosed around a bit, looking for the inside scoop and I ended up talking to Eric Potter, the high school teacher elected to represent them in negotiations and a parent. The parent asked to remain anonymous out of concerns for the privacy of their child. Eric’s take on the situation is that the Mahomet school system, one of the few outside the Chicago metro area to make the fifty best schools in the state list, is important to the 2,900 students, their parents, the teachers, and the board.

The parent I spoke with confirmed this perception. The school system, rich in extra-curricular activities and solidly performing in the fundamentals, is a point of pride for the community. I heard concerns over costs, which are on everyone’s mind, but the only non-economic issue that came up were the many zero tolerance policies. I know this person and if they’re saying things have become heavy handed in some areas of student discipline I’d be inclined to listen.

What was not heavy handed was the board’s approach to this matter. Eric related that there were some personality rubs between various parties, which happens when people who disagree still have to come together and get things done. Overall the attitude is one of a community balancing property tax costs and the desire to have their school remain at the head of the class.

The board wished for small raises and a two year agreement, citing concerns over the economy. The teachers were very concerned over the health care costs and being locked in to the small raises. The one year contract was the compromise reached. Previous agreements have run as long as four years.

These are troubled economic times, but as a nation we would do well to have more collective bargaining, not less. The thirty years since the breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers Union have seen American manufacturing gutted by offshoring and real wages remained flat while the wealthiest few percent benefited from massive asset inflation. A town full of workers earning union wages is a town full of well kept homes, a business district without a blank store front in sight, and plenty of money for the finer things in education. Mahomet has held on to an excellent school system as the rest of the country has crumbled.

We ought to stir ourselves, as a nation, and make those opportunities our parents and grandparents had available to our children and grandchildren.

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