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McCaleb: Why are taxpayers always the last to know?

Would you agree to pay for a service without fully understanding what exactly you were buying?

Say, for example, that you wanted to change from cable TV to satellite. You called up a satellite provider and told them you were thinking about switching.

They told you they would install your satellite and have your service activated in a couple of weeks. But they wouldn’t tell you what it was going to cost, or what channels you were going to receive, until it was up and running.

Would you hang up and never call that provider again?

Unfortunately, taxpayers in Carpentersville-based School District 300 can’t just hang up on the district.

They’re going to be paying for a new teachers’ contract, the details of which they won’t know until the ink already is dry.

After a one-day teachers’ strike last week, LEAD 300 and the district’s negotiating team agreed to terms on a new three-year deal. Taxpayers were told the terms of the district’s final offer before the strike – details that included hiring 60 additional teachers to reduce class sizes and salary increases of 3 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent over the three years. But they aren’t being told details of the tentative agreement and won’t be until after it’s ratified by both the union and the school board, likely by Dec. 18.

The new teacher hires and 8 percent in raises were going to cost the district – i.e., taxpayers – an additional $15.5 million over three years and lead to a deficit-spending situation. How much more – we all know it is not going to be less – is the negotiated deal going to cost?

Taxpayers are significant stakeholders in the school district, too. They should know the details of the contract before both the teachers and the school board vote on it.

They are paying for the contract. They should know now what they will be paying for and have an opportunity to voice their opinion before any votes are cast.

But in our upside-down world that is Illinois bureaucracy, those with so much at stake are the last to know.

That’s not right. The school district should release the contract terms immediately.

• • • 

Words matter: We reported last week that significant enrollment declines at Crystal Lake-based School District 47 has the school board considering closing a school or two at some point in the future. At the same time, the Crystal Lake Public Library has for years wanted more space, and earlier this year pitched a $28 million expansion project at its current location at 126 Paddock St. near downtown Crystal Lake.

Taxpayers are reluctant to pay for such an expensive expansion, so the library will consider all other options.

An initial story that we published online and in print on Thursday said that the school district would consider “offering” a school to the library if the school board decided that closing one or more schools was necessary.

Sloppiness on the part of Northwest Herald editors, including me, led to a follow-up story and editorial on Friday that changed “offer” to “donate.”

Donating a school never was part of the discussion at Wednesday’s special school board meeting, District 47 officials emphasized with me on Friday.

These discussions are extremely preliminary. If District 47 decides that closing a school is necessary, all of the details of any potential transfer of a school to the library needs to be worked out.

Essentially, selling a school property would be considered.

My apologies for any confusion we created over our imprecise use of words in covering this story.

• • • 

More on D-47: Though all this is in the early stages and might end up going nowhere, I fully support these two separate governing bodies working together for the greater public good.

My two children attend District 47 schools – one is at South Elementary and one is at Lundahl Middle School. I’d be disappointed if either school was closed. But I also understand the economics of it, and want District 47 to be fiscally responsible. If declining enrollment necessitates closing a school, so be it.

Sometimes I think children adapt much better and more quickly to change than adults do. I’m certain our kids’ education won’t suffer if a District 47 school were to close for appropriate reasons.

If that’s the case and the decision can help out the library (and taxpayers), all the better.

• • • 

Hyperlocal, from afar: The Chicago Tribune announced last week that it was resuming its relationship with Journatic, the pseudo-reporting service that uses cheap labor in places such as the Philippines to scrape local websites for listings and other news content.

The Tribune was embarrassed several months ago when it was revealed that some of the Journatic content it published on its TribLocal websites and in its weekly TribLocal print editions included plagiarized stories and stories with fake bylines using “American-sounding” names. This after the Chicago-based media company fired more than a dozen locally based reporters to contract with Journatic.

After the revelation, the Tribune temporarily stopped using Journatic content. Now it’s back, though on a more limited basis.

Residents interested in local news and information will have to make their own decisions on where to get that content.

Good luck getting someone from Journatic on the phone, though, if you have a question about something in TribLocal.

If you have a question about anything in the Northwest Herald, well, our reporters and editors work here and live here. We’re easily accessible.

As a matter of fact, my contact information begins now ...

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NWHEditor.

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