The meeting hall echoed with the haughty laughter of the Cumberland Area Teachers Association. Smiles and handshakes were exchanged between various old friends and coworkers. After a few minutes, Tom Grenke, union leader and eighth grade history teacher, began striking his gavel for order. The raucous crowd took some time to calm down, but eventually the room fell silent. Tom shuffled through some papers and cleared his throat before leaning in to the microphone that sat in front of him.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this meeting of the CATA started, shall we? There is quite a lot to cover today; so much has been happening in the district. As you know the School Board is trying to squeeze us because of the new funding changes. The new budget is a little smaller, so it looks like we’re going to have to make some cutbacks. For most of you that will mean no raise this year, and for a few of our more tenured teachers it may even mean a 2% pay cut. Your benefits will likely be affected as well. We’re all going to have to tighten our belts this time folks. No one is above it.” A heavy silence fell over the crowd. Serious looks were exchanged between the members. A few teachers in the crowd looked down at their feet solemnly as Tom sat stone-faced at the front of the room. The corner of his mouth twitched a little and he tried to clear his throat again, but he couldn’t contain himself. A broad, goofy smile spread across his face.
Instantly, the hall erupted in laughter. Some teachers giggled like children while others nearly fell out of their chairs in their hilarity. Grenke himself was holding his sides and struggling to catch his breath. The roaring jocularity of the crowd slowly died down with the odd renewed burst of laughter here and there. Once he had composed himself, Grenke leaned back to the microphone and continued.
“Right, well we all know that ain’t happenin’. So the question is: how can we use this to our benefit?” After a few moments of silence, Jen Harris, a first year English teacher got to her feet. Tom nodded and she spoke.
“Well, we could paint these budget cuts as an attack on education to manipulate public opinion in our favor.” Tom chuckled and gave her a condescending smile.
“Haha, first years. Of course we’re going to do that, honey. This isn’t our first time to the rodeo. Things are changing though, Jen. Public opinion isn’t what it used to be back when we could do no wrong. We need to be more creative these days with how we trick the outsiders. So come on, folks, let’s hear some new ones.” An older woman in the front row struggled to her feet and raised her hand. She had the homely sweetness of a loving grandmother and smiled with all the tenderness and compassion possible in a human being. Tom smiled back and acknowledged her.
“Well, I know it’s not all that original, but we could pull the old extracurricular con. We did that at my old school and it worked perfectly. Since we all bargain together, we can force them to give up on the pay cuts. Their only choice will to be to cut in other places like extracurriculars. The board will have to shut down music and sports and the parents will be in an uproar and no one will ever suspect that teachers would have caused it. The school board will look like the villains and we’ll be heroes for fighting them.” The older woman sat back down with a smile. Tom nodded happily.
“I like it. Thank you, Agnes. Not only will we be heroes, but we’ll finally get rid of those pesky extracurriculars. Extracurriculars have had the market on time wasting for too long now. Once we get rid of them, we’ll have a better excuse to give the students more downtime, and more downtime for them means more time for us to smoke pot in the break room! It’s simply brilliant!”
“Wait!” someone shouted from the back. “What about the actual extracurricular teachers? Won’t this tactic be bad for them?” There were a few confused murmurs, but Tom silenced them with his gavel.
“Oh I don’t think we need to worry about them,” he said, gesturing to his left. A spotlight turned on and illuminated the corner where six extracurricular teachers sat, tied to their chairs and gagged. The struggled a little and made some pitiful sounds. Tom laughed and the light shut off.
“Besides, we’ve set up a lucrative severance package. I’m sure they’ll be able to survive for a while.” Tom scribbled a few things down on his paper and took a deep breath. “Ok, so that much is settled. Any other ideas?” There were a few more moments of silence before another voice rang out from the back.
“What about the children?” the voice shouted. Tom looked taken aback at first. He hadn’t expected such a sentiment, but he realized the voice was right. He nodded.
“The children, of course,” he said his voice deep and serious. “They’re always a good bargaining chip. We could engineer another study demonstrating that underfunded classrooms are less effective at teaching students. The blame for our failures falls on the state and we don’t even have to try to teach a thing! It’s perfect.” He reclined in his seat and let out a sigh. “You know,” he continued. “These cuts just keep sounding better and better…”
The Shadow Council
Thick smoke swirled in the darkened chamber of the Cumberland Area School District board room. Murmurs filled the hall and mingled with the smoke. Thaddeus Thompson, the school board President, sat at the head of the table puffing on an oversized cigar. Ashes piled up on the floor beside him as he conversed with the woman to his left. Taking another drag, he looked at the clock and realized it was time to begin. He raised his hand and the assembly grew quiet. All eyes were on Thaddeus as he placed his cigar in an ash tray and ran his hands through his hair.
“Alright, as you all know the war is on. Funding from the state keeps getting tighter, so we’re going to have to be even craftier if we’re going to keep any of it for ourselves. Heaven knows those teachers are going to try to grab as much of the pie as they can.”
“Bloodsuckers!” a board member cried out angrily.
“Keep it cool, Martha,” Thaddeus said soothingly. “We’ll get our money. We just need to make the right strategic moves. Any suggestions?”
“What about all that money going to sports?” Martha asked. “Can’t we just take that?” Thaddeus shook his head.
“No, that’s too obvious. They’ll be expecting that. We have to find a way they won’t be expecting.” A shadowy figure at the end of the table raised a hand. “Yes, Gerald?”
“I’ve been cultivating a plan I think you all might approve of for the last few weeks,” came the thin, wicked voice of Gerald Weaving. Thaddeus nodded approvingly.
“Of course, Gerald. Please tell us.” The shadowy Gerald cleared his through and began to lay out his master plan.
“The Healthy Food Cafeteria Plan enacted two years ago; we say we are eliminating it to protect other school programs.”
“I don’t know, Gerald,” Martha said. “Won’t that cause problems with the parents?” Gerald chuckled at her naivety.
“You’re forgetting what it’s like out there these days, Martha. Parents don’t want the schools telling them how to raise their children. We can use that to our advantage. We announce that we are bringing free choice back to our cafeterias and eliminating the heavy handed Health Plan. ‘Let students choose hamburgers and cheese fries if they want them!’ is what we’ll say. We’ll be praised as freedom loving Americans and while the parents rejoice, we’ll keep the excess funding looking like heroes all the way!” Martha gasped in pleasure and the others applauded. Thaddeus rose to his feet to congratulate his fellow board member.
“It’s a wonderful plan, Gerald. It will work perfectly!” Gerald raised his hand and the room fell silent.
“That is not all, my friends,” he said wickedly. “The best part is forthcoming. We fill the cafeteria with the cheapest, most unhealthy food we can find. It will take very little time to have the desired effect. Our students will gorge themselves on the delicious junk, all the while their arteries clogging and their breath growing shallower.” The other board members looked at him, perplexed.
“I don’t understand,” said Martha. “What good would that do?” Gerald laughed, his voice drenched in cruelty.
“What is the point of funding sports teams when our students can barely walk ten feet without a break? In two years the athletic department will be in shambles. We’ll have no choice but to cut the wasteful sports programs. Even if funding takes a 12% cut in that time, the surplus will be more than enough to meet our…expenses…” The board room was stunned.
“My word, Gerald,” Thaddeus said. “I’ve never heard anything so brilliant in my life!”