GEA, School Board Both Have Failed Strategically

These negotiations may be a chess game, but one bad move can haunt you for years.

All right! Now that we’ve dispensed with the District 304 contract negotiation basics, it’s time to talk about a teachers strike. And we’ll be discussing the long-term ramifications here because everybody knows what the immediate consequences are.

But before we depart, we need to apply an appropriate framework so that we’re all on the same page. Taking a cue from military history, we’ll break this conflict down into three separate, but eminently interrelated parts.

The first is the “tactical,” or what’s happening right here, right now. It’s a small slice of the big picture. You can win a tactical engagement, but lose the battle and vice versa.

Then there’s the “operational,” which means the battle as a whole. It’s the sum of the tactical efforts. Again, an operational victory can be so ill-conceived or so costly, that you lose the war.

I’m sure General Lee could've offered some cogent operational thoughts on, say, Gettysburg.

Lastly, we have the most important consideration: the strategic. This is the entire front or the war. It’s the big picture. Using our Civil War analogy, despite an early two-year battlefield domination, the South failed strategically and lost the war.

And I believe both sides have failed strategically in this Geneva teachers contract conflict. We’ll start with the teachers union, aka the Geneva Education Association.

In order to prevail in any public confrontation, you have to win the hearts and minds of—you guessed it—the public. The Chicago teachers union did a masterful job of doing just that. They gave up some tactical ground early, but then turned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s snarling four-letter rants into an operational advantage.

The GEA should’ve been taking notes.

Instead of fighting TaxFACTS’ boardroom fire with fire, they could’ve exposed Bob McQuillan's group as the bullies they are and generated a reasonable amount of citizen sympathy. There’s a reason TaxFACTS can’t get its candidates elected and McQuillan can’t win an election.

Moving on. I understand the GEA can neither compel nor prevent a teacher from speaking publicly, but the educators who took to that boardroom podium made me cringe. They horrifically undermined their own cause.

Whenever a six-figure-salaried employee gets up and whines about the need for raises—even if it’s for other folks—it’s like a gay Democrat attending a Tea Party gathering and hoping it turns out well.

One can only wonder where that union might be if the teachers had stayed out of the boardroom, forsaken the green shirts, and simply given McQuillan & Co. the rope with which they've always been willing to hang themselves.

Comparing District 304 salaries to neighboring districts didn’t help matters, either. Were I on that board, my response to that union contention would’ve been to encourage their subjects to submit an application to those districts—along with the 600 other applicants.

So instead of generating public support, emails to the district/board are running 10 to 1 against the teachers and my email ratio is even worse. In an era in which you can’t get 9-of-10 people to agree the sky is blue, that’s really something.

Considering this vast strategic failure, should the teachers strike—even for one short day—that ill-conceived tactical maneuver will put TaxFACTS in the driver’s seat for years to come. And if that doesn’t scare you, then you’d probably be OK with a Sarah Palin presidency.

Not only are some folks in the TaxFACTS group salivating over the possibility of a strike, they're counting on it!

A strike means TaxFACTS gets their School Board slate elected. If you think these negotiations are contentious, just wait. It also means that group will finally enjoy the popular support that has eluded them for so long.

Please understand, I’m not backing anyone here, least of all a self-aggrandizing mob. I’m simply stating what I believe will happen if there is a strike.

The GEA is looking over the thin edge of a very dark and deep abyss and, trust me, there ain’t nothing good down there. Sometimes a strategic retreat means you get to fight another day.

But on to the School Board. Because a previous iteration of that body also made a strategic mistake.

Though I loved former board President Tim Moran’s high-road refusal to renegotiate contracts during the depths of a recession, that’s exactly when they had the political capital to get concession.

When every other school district was firing teachers and rehiring them at a lower rate, our board should’ve gone carpe diem because people have very short memories and gratitude is a thing of the past.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when public officials stick to their guns, but it can be a self-defeating endeavor. Communism as described by Karl Marx is beautifully religious, but it doesn’t work in the real world.

The board’s failure to take advantage of that opportunity will continue to haunt us.

So, while it may be too late for the board, I would hope the teachers union understands the strategic ramifications of their tactical and operational maneuvers. Because if they strike now, they may win the battle, but I guarantee you, they will lose the war.

Julie November 01, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Ain't that the truth, Max! The funny thing is that a lot of the yards that those signs are displayed in are teachers' yards. I know of at least 6 of them. Classic.
Malcolm November 01, 2012 at 02:53 AM
You certainly don't see many of the "I <3 Geneva Teachers" signs in town - except on "for sale" properties. I have heard that the majority of Geneva teachers live outside Geneva. Must be the property taxes are too high. Or maybe they're just following the old adage, 'Don't <blank> where you sleep'
Jeff Ward November 01, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Bobby, And, once again, with all avenues exhausted, you threaten to sue me. What is that, the 349th time? And people have the nerve to say you're a bully!
Arron Lee November 01, 2012 at 01:29 PM
The hardest part about all of this is watching the negativity that is displayed on the patch. Max you have stated you don't like the name calling but then you throw out sock puppet, thug and then you suggest my wife (being a teacher) is threatening families with extortion. I would love to discuss all of these issues with anyone next Monday at the meeting. But really enough of the threats and name calling. The more disheartening thing is the gap that is widening between the BOE and its teachers. Long after the BOE's tenure, the teachers (EVEN NEW ONES) and BOE have to work together and we have to make this community work. Stop this name calling and the threats.
Max November 02, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Mr. Lee, I'm sure your wife is a fine person and would like to believe that she has our childrens' best interests at heart, as I trust you do. And of course you are uncomfortable with the idea that she might not be given respect. I hope you will help her to understand the situation in which the community finds itself, and the circumstances into which her support of the union's behavior helps to place D-304. If she continues that support, in light of union refusal to bargain sincerely, then she must bear some responsibility for the outcome -- and whatever may be its lasting effects. When you mention a gap between the BoE and the teachers, I believe that you mean the gap between the BoE and GEA/IEA. The BoE simply does what it must do in order to represent the legitimate interests of the community, and it does so in a sincere professional, even a restrained, manner. But understand this, too -- while the community continues to appreciate its teachers for the work they do, it expects them to act responsibly when pursuing their personal interests as well as when on the job. There will be no foreseeable time which is "...after the BoE's tenure." What makes the BoE is a continuity of values, not a continuity of membership. If the BoE is forced in the future to take a harder line toward the GEA, it will not be by choice but by necessity. It didn't have to be that way.


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