Sunday, August 28, 2011

Johnny Cash and the Northwest Herald

McHenry County is lucky to have such a high caliber newspaper as The Northwest Herald.

Okay, maybe not.

My wife and I cancelled our subscription to The Northwest Herald a few years ago due to the fact that the paper lacks balance. And there have been some serious flaws in reporting over the years. Amateurish, actually.

When we got a call from them last year to renew our subscription for a 4 day delivery, including Sunday, for a one-time price of $20 or so, we decided to give them another try. After all, if they were offering a subscription like that they must be hurting for readers.

And we just wanted to help them out. We’re like that, you know.

Today, the editor of The Northwest Herald went on his usually tirade. He does that every week. And this time, it was against the teachers of District 26, of course.

Chris Krug likes to do that.

He took issue with the fact that several teachers attended the last board of education meeting wearing black. The headline states, “Back out on the blackout.” Then he goes on to ridicule those teachers for their choice of color, stating, “Teachers wearing black in support of the deal that has been imposed on them is as short sighted as….yada..yada..yada.”

Chris Krug, they were not wearing black in support of the deal. They were wearing black to show that they were not in support of the deal…because, it was not….a deal. A deal implies a mutually agreed upon outcome. The fact is, the board has refused to deal.

He didn’t tell you that, however.

In fact, there was much that Mr. Krug does not mention. Of course, he laments about teachers’ salaries. “No tears will be shed for someone who can’t get by on an average salary of $69,000 a year,” he writes.

But did he tell you that the Superintendent’s base salary of $147,000 is subject to possible increases based on CPI and another 4% a year extra if he meets performance goals?

No, he did not.

Did he mention that this Board of Education has a new budget that includes 2% more allocated to Administration this year?

No, he did not.

Did he mention that the teachers have offered to give up retirement bonuses and end of career bumps?

No, he did not.

Did he mention that teachers have offered to pay 30% more for health insurance?

No, he did not.

Most of the column, actually, was devoted to the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s familiar song, “Man in Black.” In fact, the entire song was reprinted there in the column, taking up perhaps 1/3 of the space.

See, that’s what happens when people have nothing to say. You see this much in high school writing, actually. Kids like to quote songs or a famous person to show that they know how to write and make a point. This happens often in The Northwest Herald.  And these are people who supposedly know something about journalism and the writing process.

Thanks Mr. Krug for showing us that you can Google Johnny Cash lyrics.

I can, too. In fact, maybe you should have used the lyrics for Cash’s song, “First Grade Old Maid Teacher.” I’m sure you could have worked that into your column in a “clever” way, too:

First grade old maid teacher
Getting' ready to go home
Thirty happy children
Once again are on their own
They climb aboard the school bus
She smiles and waves goodbye
But the first grade old maid teacher
Wants to cry

The fact is that The Northwest Herald has come down quite aggressively on just one side of this issue. Many of us were pleasantly surprised by Katie Anderson’s article of last week. That just doesn’t happen often in The Northwest Herald.

Perhaps Mr. Krug was on vacation that week.

No one here is saying that the teacher’s shouldn’t make concessions. I believe the teachers have to make some major concessions.

But the board has to meet them at the table and give some things up as well.

But that is not what they appear to be doing.  And that is something that The Northwest Herald should also be reporting.

But Chris Krug doesn’t want that side of the story to be told, apparently.

He would rather talk about Johnny Cash and teachers wearing black.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pay freezes and superintendents....

I have nothing personal against Brian Coleman, the Cary District 26 superintendent.  I know that may be hard to believe as I publicly called for him to be fired at the Community Engagement Committee meeting last week.  I was a little emotional, I admit.  In fact, I almost came to tears talking about my 2nd grade son who doesn't like school.  The fact that there is no longer art, music or gym in the grade schools doesn't help his situation.  When it comes to my kids, I get a little more emotional than someone perhaps watching this debacle from the sideline.

At the last board meeting, a Cary resident stood up to publicly defend Brian Coleman, saying that he was disgusted by the anger directed at the superintendent.  No doubt, he was referring to me, among others, who have taken public swipes at the superintendent.  He talked about how Brian Coleman was an outstanding teacher for his daughter.  That may be true; I personally have no knowledge of Brian Coleman outside of his superintendency.  He may have been a fabulous teacher.  I don't know.

This is really not about Brian Coleman, however.  It is about the Board of Education and what they say and do.  This is about the inconsistencies in actions.

But let's be clear:  in this time of financial trouble, the Board of Education has been very generous to Brian Coleman.

This year, Brian Coleman's contract was renewed with the school board.  He will continue to be our superintendent until June, 2016.

According to reports, Brian Coleman "voluntarily" took a pay freeze for 2011-12.  Therefore, his base salary continues to be a little over $147,000.  With the other benefits he receives, his salary is boosted to $181,000 or so.

But is this really a pay freeze?

For the next four years of his tenure in District 26 beyond this school year, Brian Coleman's salary will be tied to the consumer price index.  This means that he could receive a boost next year.  Who knows?  The CPI for 2010 was 1.6%.  Which means that Brian Coleman would have received a 1.6% raise.  If the CPI for 2011 is 3.6%, that means the superintendent gets a 3.6% raise (If the CPI declines, does his salary decline, too?  We don't know, as the contract specifics were not made public).

Plus, according to his contract, he can get 4% extra each year if he completes some performance-based goals.

That means that Brian Coleman in actuality is eligible for close to $6000 in raises each year outside of CPI "adjustments." Even though he "voluntarily" contributes 10% to his board-paid health insurance, the superintendent can actually get pay raises each year.

Ooops.  Not actually a "freeze" is it?

The kicker is this: the teachers have offered a pay freeze as well.  In fact, they have offered a "hard freeze," meaning there is no increase based on CPI.  There is no step increase either.  (This was the situation with the offer made on August 9.  This may have changed, as the CEA has since offered another proposal.  But the details are not yet public.)

When the teachers offered that pay freeze, the board responded that a pay "freeze" is not a "cut."  They need cuts, they keep telling the teachers and the public.  Brian Coleman himself stated at a Finance Committee meeting in February, "We have to live within our budget." 

So why was a pseudo-freeze acceptable for Brian Coleman's contract?  After all, a "freeze is not a cut" they keep saying.  And as we have seen, Brian Coleman really isn't experiencing a pay freeze, after all.

There is no consistency on the part of the Board of Education.  The words and explanations that are offered by the board are not backed up by facts.

Nor are they backed up by actions.

And that is the problem.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Open Letter to the Cary Community: Support Our Teachers

Dear friends and neighbors,

I speak to you today not as “Drew Madigan,” but as a concerned parent.  Even though I am a teacher in another district, my only skin in this game are my two boys who will be in the Cary schools for the most important developmental period of their lives.

Since beginning these rants and getting involved in this issue, I knew that I was putting myself out there.  I wasn’t sure it was even something I wanted to do at first.  However, the stakes were too high, in my opinion, to remain silent.  And so I began speaking up in a very public way.  Just in a matter of a week, this website has received over 2,200 hits.   I was no longer silent, watching from the sidelines.  If I were to take shots at public figures, I knew I should expect shots in return.  That is the nature of politics.  I have experienced this before several years ago when I publicly criticized a board member in District 214 who was bent on banning books.

Let me be clear:  I have nothing against members of the board personally.  Each of them have family and children as well. They, too, want what’s best for their families.   I question their decisions, however.  I question their ability to effectively run a school district.  I question that they have my children's best interest at heart.  I fear what may happen to this community as a result of their decisions.

Some people are angry, there is no doubt about that.  All you have to do is read the online comment sections of the newspaper.  The few who are the most vitriolic truly do not understand what is at stake.  This misguided anger is projected most fervently on those who teach our children, as if all of the problems this community faces are because of them and them alone.  The assumption is made that teachers have it easy.  That they are “greedy.” Several people have commented that teachers live a “lavish” lifestyle.  Really?  Come over to my $219,000 house if you believe that.  And that was before the housing market crashed.

The Cary teachers are just like you.  They live in the same kinds of houses that you live in.  The same neighborhoods.  The same community.  In fact, these are the people to whom we entrust our children every day.  Because they are teachers, we expect something more of them---perhaps more than we expect of our neighbors.  That is because they have taken on a very important job:  to teach our kids. But not just our kids, but our neighbors’ kids, too.   We praise our children when they do well, but sometimes forget all that went into making that child live up to his or her potential.

It is a job I love.  I know I am lucky each year when school starts to have those kids in my class.  And I consider it a challenge every year to try and reach them, to get them to better themselves and push themselves to the fullest extent of their ability.  Sometimes I’m successful.  Sometimes not.  But each year is a challenge to which I look forward. 

Most teachers will tell you the same thing: it’s not just a job.  It’s a passion.  It’s a calling.

But, in times like this, people so quickly dismiss that calling.  “Anyone can do that job,” they say.  Really?  These are the people who teach our children to count.  To read and write so that teachers like me, in later grades, can carry them elsewhere.  But it is these teachers who start that work.  They build the foundation.

We live in a middle class community.  With all of the comments that I have received over the last week, it really seems to me that some people are upset that teachers are members of the middle class.   If we want teachers to live in the same community then we must be willing to accept what it takes for that.  There are hard decisions that must be made, that is for sure.  The teachers must be willing to give some things up. 

And they have. 

At what point do we turn our backs on them and give into the desire to cast blame? Remember, what happens in the schools happens to all of us as a community.  Like it or not, our schools very much affect the value of our property.  Real estate agents will tell you that one of the biggest attractors to a community are the schools.  In markets like this we cannot let our schools fail.  We must ask ourselves:  do we really want a community that our teachers cannot afford to live in?

Because that is what is happening before our eyes.  By implementing their “last, best offer,” the board is forcing unprecedented terms upon our teachers.  Our neighbors.

If this is the type of community you want, by all means support the board.  But please don’t complain when the Cary school district becomes one of the obstacles to selling a house. 

In the next week, much is going to happen. I hope everything works out and my kids have an awesome year in school.  I hope that both sides are able to sit down at the negotiating table and work things out.  

But in order to do that, the board must be willing to give as well. 

In the end, the people who help our children learn to read, who push our children to take risks and strive to do their best in a classroom are not just any teachers.

They are our teachers.

And they deserve our support.


Bruce David Janu

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Rant: Will the Board Accept the New Offer to Sit Down?

As most of you have heard by now, the Cary Educational Association has submitted another offer to the Board of Education.  As was abundantly clear on Monday, the teachers are still willing to sit down at the table.  The problem:  Is the Board of Education willing?  I am not too sure.  That is why we need to keep up the pressure.

Here is another edition of The Rant.  In this episode:  viewer mail, pseudonyms and the Community Engagement Committee meeting.

Let the board know that you want them to sit back down and work it out with the teachers. Before it is too late.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is District 26 serious about cutting (or does this philosophy only apply to teachers)?

Cary District 26 claims they do not have money.  They wanted the teachers to come up with $2 million in cuts.  And the teachers did that on August 9.  But still no deal.  The board refused to continue the negotiations and, instead, implemented their "last, best offer."

From the public opinion survey, it is clear that people think administration should endure cuts as well.  Since closing two schools, what has happened to the administrative center and those jobs there?  Let's look at the way things were in the Spring of 2009.  This was back when District 26 had six schools.  How many people were working in the Administrative office in 2009?  Twenty*  (Click on the link to see an archived page from 2009)

How many now? Nineteen

What's the difference?   Currently, Brian Coleman has one less administrative assistant. The Curriculum Coordinator position was removed as was the position of Accountant.  The Administrative Assistant to Curriculum and Special Education was moved to become Executive Administrative Assistant to the Director of Special Services.  However, three positions were added in this time:  Finance Coordinator, Payroll Clerk and receptionist in the Finance and Operations Office.

In addition, the board was able to hire 2 assistant principals for the Junior High, plus allocate $15,000 to buy 546 4-year-old used computers from another district.  Good deal on the computers, perhaps.  But should the district really be spending like this when they are in a "dire" financial situation?

Chris Jenner and Julie Jette voted against the hiring of the two administrators.  Jette thought it was more important to work on getting class sizes down.

Jenner voiced support for cutting administration.  "In the last six years our student population has gone down by 20 percent, at what point do you change the structure of the administration," he said after the vote.

Now, I may have said many things about Jenner on this site, but on this point, he was right.  The administration needs to be restructured so that less money is spent there.

It just doesn't seem like that is happening in a substantive way.

Especially since the teachers are still willing to negotiate.

* In 2009, the speech pathologist was listed on the Administration and staff support page.  She is still employed by the district and was never considered an administrator.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fuzzy Math and Death Star Plans---My Thoughts on Tonight's Board Meeting

Chris Spoerl, D26 Board President:
Not a fan of "youtubes"

Just got back from tonight's Community Engagement Committee meeting.  Standing room only, folks.  That was great to see.  However, it was painfully clear that Board President Chris Spoerl was not happy with the videos posted on this site.  He said so.   However, I think he called them "youtubes," actually.

For a large portion of the meeting, we were all entranced by Mr. Spoerl's powerpoint regarding the current state of negotiations.  Fortunately, he never had the opportunity to finish it because there were people smarter in the room than him.  They helped point out all of the mistakes contained on those slides. 

Apparently, the board's position in regard to the current state of financial affairs is based on projections that are not rooted in reality.  And, they were not up-to-date with the last offer made by the teachers either.  But really, can we expect any better with a financial director accused of making a $1.5 million error on the audit for Huntley School District 158?  The biggest problem with schools today is not the teachers, as this board would have you believe, but the mediocre administrators who get "re-gifted" from district to district after less-than-stellar performances.

Truthfully, I am not actually sure what was on those slides.  I was standing in the back, near the door---but I think they might have been plans to Death Star.  You know, the plans Princess Leia hid in R2D2.  They could have been, for all anyone knew.  And for a moment there, board member Floyd Myers looked a little like Obi Wan Kenobi. It was a surreal.  As the board was clearly growing agitated by the crowd's attempt to correct them with facts,  I was expecting light sabers to emerge at any minute.  Or, I was hoping.  That would have been really cool.  Especially since Yoda was there.

I don't know who he was, but he was a man of wisdom.  He stood on the side of the room and clearly had experience in negotiations and the arbitration process.  He gave an unbiased assessment of the situation in District 26.  Basically, he said, the facts weren't straight.  And there was no trust.  Bingo!

But Spoerl was not going to let Yoda destroy his presentation, that was for sure.  Like the trooper he was, Spoerl always went back to the slides.  Not answering the questions or points made about the info on the slides, mind you.  It always seemed that as he tried to bring attention back to his slides, he was just hoping that people would forget that he was in the room.

As I gather my thoughts for the next "Rant," I thought this video best summarizes Chris Spoerl's attempt at a Powerpoint Presentation:

All I can say to the Board of Education is this:  Less powerpoints and more action.  Show the community that you are willing to negotiate.

That was something the teachers proved tonight.

Now, it's your turn. 

Again, I was really glad to see the turnout. We need more on Monday for the regular Board Meeting.  Don't give up on our teachers.  That is what the Board is hoping you will do.

Peace, love and happiness,

Drew Madigan

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Drew Madigan Apologizes to District 26 Board of Ed

I have to say, I feel a little bad about what has been happening lately.  Due to some of my remarks in the last Cary News Update I feel the need to set the record straight by apologizing to the District 26 School Board.  That's right, you heard me correctly:  I, Drew Madigan, am going to apologize for fueling assumptions about some of the people on the board.  Apparently, there were some hard feelings (or hurt egos.  Don't know which).  I just want the board to restart the negotiation process.  Is that too much to ask for?

You can view that apology below.  Click here to read the press release.

Don't forget to attend the Community Engagement Committee meeting tonight at 6 pm at Cary Junior High and the Board of Education Meeting next Tuesday at 7 pm.

Drew Madigan to issue formal apology to District 26 Board of Ed

That's right, folks.  Drew Madigan is going to issue a public apology to the Board of Education of Cary School District 26.

Watch this space for further developments.

Come back soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cary News Update: August 13, 2011

This is the first Cary News Update. More to come.

For a press release announcing this website, click here.

Drew Madigan Announces the Creation of a New Website

Hi.  I'm Drew Madigan and I am MAD AGAIN.  Why?  It seems like the District 26 Board of Education can't get their you-know-what together.  Or, I should say, they refuse to get their you-know-what together.

We are in the midst of contract negotiations between the District and the Teachers union.  The teachers have made concessions and they have come to the table now several times with offers.  The district has not made any new offers, but have stuck to their original----in my opinion, unnecessarily harsh---offer.  It seems to me that several on the board are willing to risk the start of school just to score some ideological political points.  This is not Congress.  This is not Wisconsin.

And, our children are not pawns in a game.

I couldn't stand it any longer.  So I created this website.

You may not like what you see or read here.  That's okay.  These are my opinions, take it or leave it.  Nothing personal, just someone who is sick of the the way things are being handled.

I just hope you read on and come to your own conclusions about what is happening in District 26.  Then...go to a meeting and let THEM know.

More later.