Just within the past week, negotiations for two large unit school districts came to a standstill, to the point that mediators have been summoned to help resolve the disputes.
While everyone, including those negotiating the contracts and the employees affected, would rather have these issues resolved with a contract in place by the start of the school year, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that School District 300 and 158 board members and teachers unions are heading for mediation.
At least we hope it’s not a bad thing for the sake of taxpayers. We can’t know exactly what’s been going on inside the walls at contract negotiations, but we know enough that when parties negotiating a contract tell you that it’s not about money – it’s about money. Why wouldn’t it be?
It’s not about the children, and that’s fine. These are adults, as are those who pay property tax bills, and professionals have a right to debate their working conditions and their compensation – business that teachers unions conduct via collective bargaining.
So far, at least, we haven’t heard the word “strike” thrown around, which no one wants. We aren’t seeing local school boards capitulate to union demands at a time when property taxpayers are stretched to their limits.
Taxpayers will not understand generous raises to teachers or other public employees in this economic environment, nor should they. What they should understand is that although matters of class size are important to children as well as teachers, their elected school board members are being wise stewards of their tax dollars.
A proposal in Springfield concerning shifting the pension burden toward local school districts, which set salaries and determine issues about how much employees earn, certainly has its flaws, but it also offers a reminder of how important these negotiations that take place at the local level are to our current tax burden and the burden in the future.