Thursday, September 1, 2011

Just up the lake shore from Chicago...

New Trier High School
Rahm Emanuel continues to turn the longer school day/year issue into a bloody war, battled out with the union in the media. But a few miles up the lake shore, in Rahm's home town, the same issues are resolved quite differently.

Winnetka is among the nation's wealthiest communities. New Trier H.S. is often referred to as one of the nation's best. It has graduated such notables as Emanuel and Donald Rumsfeld (yuck!). It's not that they have discovered some new great way to teach their students in Winnetka. The curriculum is fairly traditional and there's nothing genetic or anything in the drinking water that makes their kids smarter. Their school year is the same as Chicago's.

Rather their super-high test scores (better than Finland's)  and college-going rate can best be attributed to the wealth of resources available to families and students. New Trier's teachers are highly regarded and paid well, nearly twice as much as other state high school teachers. A recent community survey said the recruitment and retention of top teachers is a "top priority."  Most students come to school well-fed from homes with high-income earning parents, many of whom are well-heeled  professionals or corporate execs. The median income for a New Trier family is $144,976 and just 1.2% of the population is below the poverty line. Property values remain high, due in large part to the proximity to the schools. If your standard is high test scores, that is the formula for school success.

I was part of a protest effort in 2008, where parents in Chicago boycotted the opening day of school and we bused thousands of kids from the south side up to Winnetka and tried (unsuccessfully of course) to enroll them at New Trier. The point was to show the huge disparity in per/student ed funding between the two neighboring Illinois districts. While we made a splash in the media for a day, nothing changed. The gap between white wealthy Winnetka and Chicago grows wider.

2008 Chicago boycott and attempt to enroll students at New Trier. (M. Klonsky pic)
Chicagoans were once again reminded of that disparity yesterday when it was announced that New Trier's teachers have won a 3.5% raise (it could swing up to 4.444%)  and that in return they agreed to add one more teaching day to the school calendar— going from 180 days last year to 182 by 2012-13.  In contrast, Chicago teachers have had their contracted 4% raise taken away and instead are being ordered to work what amounts to 10 or more extra days each year for about $4.10/hour -- about half minimum wage. Despite all of Rahm's demagogy about the short Chicago school year, its 180 day schedule is essentially the same length as New Trier's.

The raise and added school day in Winnetka were the product of relatively peaceful negotiations between the board and the union, carried out without much media fanfare. There was, as expected, some contention between the two sides. The negotiations were “sometimes heated,” according to a District 203 associate superintendent. A mediator met several times with the two sides. But in the end, they worked things out.

Of course Winnetka schools operate with a budget surplus each year as opposed to Chicago's widening deficit because 92% of their school funding comes from the high property taxes of its affluent surroundings
“The impact will be a positive one on reducing expenditures,” Dist. 203 Supt. Yonke said. “We were already looking at a balanced budget. Now we’re looking at slightly better than that.”
The raise was actually the smallest New Trier teachers had received in 20 years. Nevertheless, they will still earn on average, about $90,000/year compared to about $55,000 for Chicago high school teachers. The agreement also allows teachers to accumulate personal leave, along with sick leave, and increases tuition reimbursement from $1,750 to $2,000 per year.

Rahm's war on Chicago teachers and their union is a reflection of his low regard for the city's families and students. 

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