Surrendering reason for the sake of a headline and greed

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When thinking about the Unionville teachers’ contract talks, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together

UnionvilleTimes.com editorial cartoon graphic. Copyright, 2011. All rights reserved.

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
There’s right, and there’s wrong.

If you ask 100 people about the current Unionville-Chadds Ford teacher contract negotiations, you’ll get 100 different answers and, understandably, a number of them angry. Parents are frustrated. Kids are worried. But don’t think for a second that either the school board members, the administration or the teachers don’t hear it — and privately aren’t just as frustrated.

And I guess, it might be tempting to try to vilify one side or the other — such histrionics would mean a spike in readership, which means more money in advertising revenue. It can be very profitable to sow the seeds of discontent. There’s too many examples in the media right now showing us exactly that. It’s certainly a little cynical and dare I say it, just a bit greedy.

Except, of course, that there’s a cost to such conduct. Everyone involved is not just some headline, but a person — a neighbor or a friend. And let’s be clear: while you or I may not agree with one side or the other, none — none — of the people involved are bad, or evil or rotten, as some might want to portray them.

In fact, it is my experience that pretty much everyone involved is a pretty good person. Yeah, I can’t lie. There are folks on both sides of the contract negotiation that say things that make me wince and both sides have been guilty of more invective than might be helpful, at times.

Still, these are good people. On the teachers’ side you have people like Pat Clark, Perk Musacchio and Betsy Ballard. When he’s not a union president, Clark is a heck of a football coach and the kind of guy it would be a blast to share a beer with and talk offensive schemes rather than pay scales. Musacchio and Ballard are among the most-dedicated and beloved teachers in the district, often honored for going above and beyond the call of duty to help students and create a better learning experience.

On the board side, you have guys like Keith Knauss and Jeff Hellrung. Keith has a gifted mind for numbers and a sharp intellect — and a dry sense of humor. And while you might argue with his steely focus on the bottom line, I think it’s driven by a worry that a failure to be exceedingly careful in the next few years by the school district could really hurt the quality of education in the long term. Jeff is another very bright guy and not too shabby as a poker player. He has the rare combination of skills and guile that allowed him to fly planes off the deck of an aircraft carrier and teach high school math, neither of which is something for the squeamish. Frank Murphy is both an engineer and an attorney, passionate, informed and able to ask good questions.

Maybe it’s also important to remember that neither side caused the fiscal nightmare we face today. Even just five years ago, the idea that property values would go down in Chester County was laughable. But it happened. And our friends in Harrisburg have dumped the pension mess on school districts, while merrily tossing in more mandates and no additional funding to pay for them.

At the end of the day, there isn’t going to be some magic fix. There’s no good solution to the problem — the teachers certainly deserve to be well-paid, by all metrics they’ve performed well above average. At the same time, senior citizens and those on fixed incomes shouldn’t be forced to choose between paying for medicine and paying their property taxes.

So what’s the answer here? Everyone, teachers, board members, taxpayers, parents are all going to have to find a way to live with a less than perfect deal.

No one is going to be happy with the final result of these negotiations, but vilifying one side or the other doesn’t help the process or make for a better community once the deal is done.

Doing so to stuff one’s pockets, though, goes beyond cynical to reprehensible.

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