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Release contract details before approval, not after

Negotiators for Dixon teachers and school officials eventually will reach a tentative contract agreement. At that point, the tentative contract should be released to the taxpaying public. It’s the public’s obligation, after all, to pay for it.

One of these days, the Dixon Education Association and the Dixon School Board will reach a tentative settlement in the teachers strike.

When that happens, the proposed contract will go the teachers union for a vote. If teachers ratify the contract, the school board will take a vote.

Traditionally, only after the school board gives its approval is the actual contract released for the taxpaying public to read.

We object.

Taxpayers pay the salaries and benefits at school districts.

They should be allowed to review any tentative contract before the school board gives its final OK.

In previous editorials, we have argued the point.

During Sunshine Week, March 10-16, we argue it again.

Sunshine Week is a national effort to promote openness and transparency in government operations at all levels. Government records and documents are created on behalf of the public. The public’s right to inspect those records and documents should be respected and protected.

After a tentative settlement is reached in the Dixon teachers strike, we call for that document to be made available to the public. A convenient way for all involved would be to post it online.

That way, the public would have the chance to review it at the same time the the full school board reviews it and the teachers review it.

Those who object to public scrutiny of the tentative contract have little to support their stand – only a penchant for secrecy.

The contract, after all, would already have been negotiated. No further bargaining advantage could be achieved by keeping it under wraps.

Our plea for contract transparency is meant not only for Dixon School Board members and teachers.

Teacher contracts will be negotiated later this year at East Coloma, Oregon, and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico; next year at Amboy, Ashton-Franklin Center, Chadwick-Milledgeville, Montmorency, Morrison, Rock Falls Elementary, Rock Falls High School, and Sterling; and in 2015 at Erie.

When negotiators reach tentative contracts at those schools, those deals should also be released before final votes are taken.

We know that’s not the way it’s generally done.

But that’s the way it should be done.

We call on the Illinois General Assembly to write that guarantee of public inspection of tentative contracts into law.

Such action would not only pay homage to openness and transparency but would pay respect to taxpayers.

Until then, voluntary release of such contracts will have to do.

Dixon school officials and teachers, that decision is up to you.

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