Jennifer had been active in the teachers union, serving on a handful of committees. Meredith was her mentor in the department and also served as a mentor in this capacity, as well. Jennifer's father was a union carpenter. She went to teacher's unions meetings throughout the state and had seen and heard from colleagues about how difficult contract negotiations could be.
They had several meetings ahead of time. As these were almost all new board members, it was quite unpredictable as to what they would they suggest. The union had come up with their recommendations, which was essentially what was in the current budget -- a guaranteed pay scale that increases salaries for teachers every two years, extra income for teachers who had graduate degrees, graduate degrees paid for, their health care almost totally paid for, etc.
Meridith was smart. She knew those benefits wouldn't last forever. But she knew to hold a poker face. If the teachers waited things out, maybe went on strike, they could cause the board to fold.
Linda and the board had been tight-lipped as to what they would propose. In fact, they would make their meeting public at the first board meeting.
The teachers union, as well as a lot of parents, parents and residents, came out en masse, with union members wearing their T-Shirts. The first part of the meeting was the typical snooze fest -- substitute teacher hirings, bus route approvals, etc. Finally, after some impatience, Linda began to speak.
Jennifer had never seen her before but had heard all about here. She sat so rigidly on the dais, her glasses at the bridge of her nose, her hair so meticulously coiffed. She and Meredith were contemporaries but could not be of a more different era.
"It is sad that we have to get to this point. However, this town cannot continue to exist with the teacher's union exerting the power it currently has," Linda said, firing her first missive. "We are in tough, tough economic times here. We all face hardships. We all must cut back. As we go forth planning this school district's future, we have to decide what we want best. Do we want to cut programs for the students? Or do we all agree that sacrifices must be made for our district to continue to be the best?"
Meredith knew this line would be coming -- it's the teachers versus the students, as told by a wealthy woman who lived in a retirement community.
"As such, here is what the board is proposing as we begin negotiations."
The union was astonished:
1) The teachers full health coverage would be gone. Instead, they would have to pay for 50% of their coverage.
2) Education benefits would not be paid for past master's degrees. And these would no longer fully be paid for. The school would only pay for 50% of these.
3) A lot of the experience pay scale would be cut in half. People with 15 years of experience would make the same as people with 30 years of experience.
4) Teacher raises were not guaranteed. In order to get a $500 raise (paltry), one had to have a favorable annual performance review. If not, then the teacher would get bumped down a level on the pay scale unless they took training courses -- out of pocket -- to remediate their behavior.
There were many, many more. The teachers' blood was boiling. They hissed collectively and shouted comments.
Linda sat stone-faced.
"You are all adults and are supposed to set an example for the children. Behave yourselves," Linda sneered so condescendingly. "I know these cutbacks seem harsh. But it's time you faced reality and endured what we citizens all have to face on a daily basis. This meeting is adjourned."
The teachers were outraged as Linda walked off. Linda brushed off the local reporter. People were filing to their cars. Jennifer saw Linda open up her Mercedes and drive away.