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Editorials

Our view: Clue public in on teacher contracts

Local property taxpayers are the No. 1 source of funding for local schools, and they deserve a greater voice in decisions on the No. 1 source of school district expenses – teachers’ salaries.

Yet in many districts, contract negotiations with teachers unions are closed-door affairs, with the public learning the terms of agreements only after they’re finalized. The most recent example is at Sycamore School District 427, where district board members approved the contract Tuesday – then told the public what was in it.

They did the same thing last year, when it was announced teachers had agreed to a one-year salary freeze. Unfortunately, even with that concession, the district still expected to run a deficit in its education fund.

District 427’s budget for the 2017-18 school year expected $23.1 million in local property tax receipts – 65 percent of the district’s total education funding.

The budget also expected the cost of instruction – teacher salaries – to reach $23.7 million. That was almost 65 percent of the education spending budgeted for the year. The budget also called for the district to spend $1.1 million more on education than it collected.

Under the contract agreed to this week, the teachers’ pay scale will increase 2.75 percent in each of the next two school years, and then by 3 percent in the third year. How much more will this contract cost? We have yet to see details from the district spelling that out.

Taxpayers should know this information well before it is voted upon. They should have the opportunity to tell board members what they think about contract proposals. It is their money that will be spent, after all.

The expectation among many teachers unions has long been that as property increases in value, their salaries should also increase (never mind that when property values fall, their salaries rarely decline). This attitude, combined with teachers being granted the power to mount school-stopping strikes, have been a driving factor behind the high property taxes and unfunded pension liabilities in Illinois.

If they’re going to be burdened with most of the bill, local property owners should be given a greater voice in school spending.

That begins with transparency by school districts in negotiations and in all matters that involve public spending.

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