Congratulations to the teachers and school board in DeKalb School District 428 for finding common ground on a new three-year teachers’ contract.
The agreement, ratified Sunday by the DeKalb Classroom Teachers’ Association and Tuesday by the District 428 board, will freeze teachers’ salaries for this school year, then award them annual raises which, in most cases, will provide a 1.1 percent pay scale increase and a 2.12 percent “step” increase in 2014-15, and the step increase along with a 1.25 percent pay scale increase in 2015-16.
It looks as though both sides compromised on the salary issues, although the district was forced to relent on a request for teachers to work for 45 minutes before and after classes are in session – a standard practice in several other districts in this area.
As we said before the contract deal was reached, a strike would have been a failure by both sides and would have been detrimental to students, teachers and the community at large. If the day comes when teachers’ strikes are banned, it will be a good one for Illinois.
Now that school board members have some idea of what labor costs will be in the years ahead, their next challenges will be aligning expenses with revenues, and deciding how to use a $21 million construction grant the district was awarded from the state of Illinois in October 2010. District officials have been considering how they will spend the money since early 2011.
One solution that should not be dismissed is to rebate the money to property taxpayers, who agreed to pay higher taxes in a $110 million bond referendum in 2008.
Of course, the district can use the funds however officials want, but using it to cover operating deficits and maintain the status quo hardly seems in keeping with the spirit of such a large construction grant.
District 428, like many others in the area, has been deficit spending, and will do so again this year to the tune of $2.7 million. It’s fair to say that the state of Illinois is not doing enough in supporting local education – the state will provide only 89 percent of the “baseline” it has set for per-student funding this year.
However, given the financial woes our state faces, it would be foolish to presume that will change any time soon.
Crafting a balanced budget is difficult but necessary work. Now that school board members know the cost of teachers’ labor and the hours they are willing to work, they can start considering the necessary, difficult choices.