Minimal progress is better than no progress, so we remain hopeful that Prairie Grove School District 46 and its teachers’ union will be able to settle their contract dispute with no more threats of a strike.
But merely settling the contract dispute for the sake of settling is not good enough. The school board and teachers’ union must reach a deal that makes sense for overburdened taxpayers, who can no longer see their property taxes go up each year because taxing bodies can’t control their spending.
The Prairie Grove Teachers’ Association last week filed a 10-day “intent-to-strike” notice with the district. The union has set no strike date, and union leaders said they aim to do “everything we can to avoid a strike.”
The union must not strike. Taxpayers will turn against them if they do. They most continue to work while negotiating, even though their last contract expired Aug. 26, 2011.
The school district’s last, best offer included a salary freeze for last year, and a 1.125 percent salary increase for the current school year. Given the economy, the high unemployment rate, the state of salaries in the private sector, and the generous benefits teachers receive, the offer sounds reasonable.
But the union continues to hold out. Union officials said they are not seeking raises and benefits that go beyond what the district can afford. But they need to remember that “the district” is “taxpayers.” They can’t seek compensation beyond what taxpayers can afford. And the school board must not offer compensation beyond what taxpayers can afford.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Sept. 17. We hope both sides can reach a deal so everyone can refocus their attention on the district’s top priority – educating Prairie Grove’s children.