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Local Editorials

Open talks to public scrutiny

Rumblings have been heard of a possible teachers strike after 11 months of contract negotiations between the Dixon School Board and the teachers union. The time is right to open those negotiations and contract offers to full public scrutiny.

For nearly 11 months, the Dixon School Board and the Dixon Education Association have engaged in apparently fruitless negotiations to reach a new teachers contract.

We believe it’s time to open the process to greater public scrutiny, before teachers take any further steps toward a strike.

We encourage both sides to make public their latest offers and counteroffers.

Further, we encourage both sides to hold their negotiating sessions in public.

We understand that this is not how things are usually done.

However, the way things are usually done – negotiating behind closed doors – hasn’t succeeded, has it?

Teachers, who have worked since Aug. 20 without a contract, can’t be blamed for getting a bit antsy.

In fact, teachers voted Jan. 18 to file an intent to strike, but as far as we know, the union has not actually done so.

When teachers start to even think about striking, the dynamics change.

A strike is bad for students, parents and the public at large.

And we are talking about the public’s money here – more than $15 million of it.

The 2012-13 Dixon Public Schools budget pegs total expenditures for instructional salaries at $10,177,000.

Accompanying those salaries are employee benefits budgeted at $5,102,160.

Combined salaries and benefits for teachers are $15,279,160.

Teachers want that figure to increase. They came off a 2-year contract that had a “soft freeze,” meaning the base salaries did not increase, although teachers still received more money each year based on seniority.

And teachers remember the previous 4-year contract where they enjoyed 4 percent annual increases in the base salary.

School district revenue has fallen by about $700,000 this year, according to Superintendent Michael Juenger. No wonder the district seems to be between a rock and a hard place – especially in light of a statement last week by Sandra Sodergren-Baar, president of the Dixon Education Association.

“In light of the previous sacrifice, we are now asking to increase our salaries and to maintain our current level of benefits,” Sodergren-Baar said.

A recently enacted state law requires that, in the event of an impasse, final contract offers by both sides must be made public before a strike can be called, no sooner than 14 days later.

Please, let’s not wander that close to the cliff.

The public pays teachers’ salaries and benefits. The public should be kept fully informed on the current status of any proposed new contract.

Board members and teachers may disagree about abandoning private negotiations. We’ve always done it that way, they might say.

We can think of no legitimate strategic advantage for either side to keep negotiations a secret. On the contrary, opening the process to public scrutiny now could be the breath of fresh air sorely needed to move the process forward.

Transparency has its own way of fixing things. The school board and teachers should try it.

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