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Our view: Staff raises as deficits continue

The budget calls for another year of deficit spending at Sycamore-based School District 427.

After years of drawing down its reserves, last year the district sold $2.9 million worth of tax anticipation warrants – basically a loan they take out using future tax receipts as collateral. These warrants are often a sign of a school district in distress, and at the least, they cause public funds to be spent on interest, rather than education.

This year, the budget will include a deficit of about $2.5 million, which district officials say likely means more borrowing, and more interest payments.

Credit school board members and administrators for confronting this challenge. They’re actively trying to stem the tide of red ink and are in the midst of a plan to cut $3.8 million in spending over three years, a plan that includes 56 layoffs districtwide.

But the school district also is saddled with a union pay scale that prescribes raises teachers based on education and years of service – and having little to do with performance.

It’s standard at public schools in Illinois.

Here, give the teachers credit for agreeing to a salary freeze in the first year of their contract. In the second through fourth years, however, they make up for it. Take for example a teacher who was on step 10 in the master’s degree lane in the 2014-15 school year.

That year, their compensation including the district’s contribution to their pension would have been $58,058, documents show.

In the upcoming school year, compensation for the same teacher, who is now on Step 12 in the pay scale, will be $64,391.

In two years, their compensation will have increased 11 percent, well outpacing the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the school district’s budget deficit was in the millions in each of those years.

We truly appreciate the work of teachers. However, most people who do not work for government would never expect their pay to continue to steadily and reliably increase while their employer struggled financially and co-workers were laid off.

If teacher pay were tied less to seniority and more to merit and financial realities, some of the problems we have paying for education could be avoided.

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