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Something to talk about? Lots around here

Research by the Readership Institute a few years ago said readers are more satisfied with newspapers that do four things:

n Look out for their interests

n Give them something to talk about

n Make them smarter

n Write about people they know

That’s a good outline for reporters and editors to follow.

And around here, it’s not hard to find news that gives readers something to talk about.

AS DIXON SCHOOLS take a second winter break while teachers strike, people find themselves lining up on one side or the other.

Of course, both sides want to do the right thing. They just can’t agree on what that is.

These things are always about the money, but that gets muddy in the bargaining positions that negotiators stake out as they try to find some way to meet on their side of the middle.

On one side, school enrollments and revenues are shrinking.

On the other, teachers are not paid enough for what we ask them to do.

But somehow, these things always get worked out.

Let’s hope it’s soon.

HOW MUCH TEACHERS are paid – compensated – is always key to these situations.It’s also key to the amount of public sympathy teachers get in their negotiations for more pay and better resources.

On average, Dixon teachers make $62,000 a year, their pay increases every year, and they have a health insurance plan.

They get significantly more than 2 weeks of vacation each year, and the state’s shaky pension system – to which they contribute – takes care of them quite nicely in retirement ... at least for now.

By contrast, the median income for a household in Lee County is about $41,000, according to the 2010 census, which tells us that about 12.6 percent of non-seniors in the county are uninsured.

Should teachers make more than the average worker?

Of course, given the education they need and the responsibility they’re given.

But there is no clean calculation that determines what is right and what is fair.

That’s why they negotiate.

PEOPLE WHO LIVE and work in the Sterling-Rock Falls area have enjoyed an unusual benefit the last couple of weeks: Lower gasoline prices than Dixon.

In fact, the $3.799 they have been paying for a gallon of regular fuel is the lowest among several communities to the east.

Now that is something to talk about!

This editor gets to monitor gas prices during his daily commute that takes him through parts of six counties in northern Illinois.

So, during the past 5 years that he has been posted in the Sauk Valley, he has been self-qualified as an expert in fuel price trends.

Prices in Dixon, which are lower than Sterling-Rock Falls about 45 weeks a year, have been 7 to 10 cents higher in recent days.

Stations in Ogle County have been consistently $3.899, and we found the same in Winnebago County.

Boone County prices have dropped to $3.839 in recent days, while McHenry County stations have climbed to $3.999.

So, enjoy it while it lasts, Sterling-Rock Falls.

History tells us it won’t last.

THAT $90 BILLION pension hole that Illinois has dug itself has been on the editor’s mind lately.

The Legislature’s inaction in recent years has only contributed to the problem, so they obviously are crying for help.

The talk in Springfield about putting the burden on local school districts – that is, local property taxpayers – just doesn’t seem fair.

The editor believes the pain should be shared – by the people who created the problem and the people who benefit from the wildly unrealistic system.

So, here’s how we get the money:

n All state pensions would be taxed at 50 percent on income over $50,000 a year, and 90 percent on income over $100,000.

Why $50,000? The maximum Social Security income for a 65-year-old retiree is about half of that, and it’s more than four times what the average Social Security recipient gets.

Why $100,000? The median household income in Illinois – people working – is a little more than half of that.

n Past and present state legislators who voted for this pension system (or its enhancements) would have their state income taxed at 25 percent and their state pensions taxed at 50 percent.

Hey, it’s just a part-time job – at $68,000 a year, plus expenses!

n Past and present school board members who voted to boost pay increases in the final years of employment of an administrator or a teacher would pay a new 2 percent tax on personal income.

It was and is, apparently, easy to approve those late-career pay hikes because the school boards don’t have to pay for those pension payouts they artificially inflate.

OK, somebody do the math and see whether that will fix the problem – without putting a burden on property owners.

If not, we can make a few tweaks to get there.

WE HOPE TODAY’S column was useful.

Our intent was to look out for property taxpayers’ interests, give readers something to talk about, make them smarter with data, and write about people they know – not by name, but by situation.

We trust you will let us know if we failed.

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