Bernard Schoenburg: Klickna looks back on 44 years in education – Opinion – The State Journal-Register

CINDA KLICKNA may not be a household name in Illinois, but about the time Gov. BRUCE RAUNER announced his candidacy in 2013, she was one of the people he said were among “the most powerful politicians in Springfield.”

Klickna, then president of the Illinois Education Association, was among those Rauner called “government union bosses” that he told me at the time have “incredible power” and “own Springfield.”

Well, time marches on, and Klickna, of Rochester, retired this month after 44 years in education — about 25 in the classroom and the rest doing union work, including six years as secretary-treasurer of the IEA and the last six as president.

“I just did my job,” Klickna, 66, told me. “I just wanted to make things better. If that’s being powerful, then so be it.” She also said that in the classroom or in the policy arena, she has been “constantly working for students.”

Klickna is a Springfield High and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate who also has a master’s in comparative literature from what is now the University of Illinois Springfield. She taught in a variety of Springfield high and middle schools.

One reason she got into union work, she said, was the early-career moves due to tight budgets and annual “reduction-in-force” orders that she was subject to 11 years in a row.

“I just thought it was being handled incorrectly,” she said.

She was president of the Springfield Education Association from 1991-1997 and again from 2003-2004. And she said some of her best years teaching were 1997-2003 at Southeast High School, including in 2002, when her students nominated her for a teacher of the year award.

She said she is “really proud” of some of the things the IEA has done, including starting a program called SCORE (schools and community outreach by educators) to give up to $1,000 grants to early-career educators for community service projects with students.

She also said the union has been heavily involved in working with doctors and educators across the state about how to handle “adverse childhood experiences,” such as abuse and neglect, or mental health problems at home, as such factors can affect the brain.

That work was the subject of conversation at one of two meetings Klickna had with Rauner. One was in his office during his first year, but this was a dinner at Obed & Isaac’s in Springfield in May, and first lady DIANA RAUNER was there.

“It was really a nice dinner,” Klickna said. She said the first lady works with such issues and was “very interested in what we talked about.”

She also said she was “shocked” to find out Rauner wasn’t meeting with some other union leaders. Spokespeople for the state AFL-CIO, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees all told me their leaders had not met with Rauner.

Klickna also moderated a discussion between Rauner and then-Democratic Gov. PAT QUINN at an IEA convention in Chicago in 2014.

In her encounters with Rauner, she said, “He would say to me, ‘I know you’re a good teacher. … I really respect teachers.’ But then I would say, ‘Yes, and we have 133,000 of them who are part of our union. So if you respect teachers, you need to respect the organization that they believe in.”

But she said that hasn’t appeared to be the case.

“Well, Rauner really hates unions, bottom line,” she said.

And she said a regret is that “myths” about the union remain.

“Contrary to what people say, we are bipartisan,” she said. “We are very focused on teacher quality, student achievement. … I just wish that I’d been able to move the needle more than we did.” But she said it has moved, as “I find a lot of people who now understand what the union is doing and the partnerships we’ve developed.”

“The governor’s interest has been achieving balance between what taxpayers can afford and offering good pay, benefits and working conditions for government employees,” said Rauner spokeswoman DIANA RICKERT. “Since Gov. Rauner took office, he’s negotiated almost three dozen contracts with government unions, and all of these contracts are fair to both taxpayers and government workers.”

The IEA, in operation since 1857, has 220 staff members in 22 buildings across the state, including two in Springfield. It has about a $50 million annual budget. Members include teachers, as well as support personnel such as school secretaries, food service workers and bus drivers, along with retirees and some people in higher education.

Klickna said Rauner’s “ideology is coming out,” with his recent staff appointments from the ranks of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. And, she said, budget cuts during Rauner’s first two years — from social services to the temporary closing of the Illinois State Museum — all affect learning.

Klickna remembers working with other governors, including the “unbelievable” number of times then-Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH “dropped the f-word” in meetings. And while some union members said they couldn’t vote in 2014 for Democrat Quinn because he signed a law — later overturned — to cut back pensions, she was impressed with Quinn’s knowledge of many communities they visited in an election fly-around.

She doesn’t regret backing Quinn for re-election, given that Rauner told the IEA his role model was Republican Wisconsin Gov. SCOTT WALKER, and that the union in Illinois “had too much power.”

Klickna remains on boards of the Teachers’ Retirement System, the Illinois Educators Credit Union and the Illinois Historical Society. She plans on doing some freelance writing and traveling. She and husband KIM, a retired band and music teacher in Springfield, have two grown sons.

The new IEA president is KATHI GRIFFIN, 58, of Schaumburg. She taught for 30 years, was president of the Schaumburg Education Association and has been vice president of the IEA for six years. She notes that contributions to the union’s political action committee are voluntary, and not from dues.

Griffin is married, and her daughter is a second-grade teacher.

“I am so proud to be the president leading this fabulous organization and providing an opportunity for us to make sure that our kids get what they deserve, because they deserve the best,” she said. And Klickna, she added, “has done wonderful things” as president.

“We were very lucky to have had her leadership, and I’m very lucky to call her my friend,” Griffin said.

Still thinking

There’s been some talk of state Sen. SAM McCANN, R-Plainview, challenging Gov. Rauner in the 2018 GOP primary, and the talk picked up again this week, as McCann’s campaign fund reported more than $65,000 in labor contributions in July. Of that, $53,900 came from the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education — the IEA’s PAC.

McCann’s campaign had just under $27,000 in the bank as of June 30. McCann’s Senate seat is up again in 2018, so it would be a big decision.

“I am considering it,” McCann said. “I have not made a decision. I don’t want to introduce any more political distractions into what is already a chaotic paradigm.” He said he’s concentrating on the school aid formula and constituent service.

— Contact Bernard Schoenburg: [email protected], 788-1540,