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Local Editorials

District wrong to withhold contract details

The Dixon School District has declined to release details of a tentative teachers contract before tonight’s special meeting, where the school board will vote on it. Such secrecy is unnecessary and wrong.

Tonight, the Dixon school board will meet in special session at 6 o’clock at the district office, 1335 Franklin Grove Road.

The purpose is for board members to vote on a 4-year tentative contract with the teachers union.

Teachers have already ratified the tentative agreement. They did so Monday.

Only a vote by the school board stands in the way of the tentative deal becoming a binding contract, for the next 4 years, on the school district and its taxpayers.

Taxpayers, of course, are the ones who must foot the bill for whatever salaries and benefits the contract contains.

Shouldn’t they at least have an opportunity to see what’s in the tentative contract, and comment on it, before school board members cast their votes?

We believe so.

However, Dixon Superintendent Margo Empen, when asked by an SVM reporter Monday for details about the contract, declined the request.

Empen was quick to add that details would be provided after the contract was approved, saying that representatives from the school board and union would make comments.

The delay makes no sense. Negotiations have ended. Teachers have approved the tentative contract. Releasing contract details now can’t impact negotiations one way or another, but could spur public comment. Such comment, apparently, is unwelcome. 

Perhaps this is part of the “interest-based negotiations” process that the school board and teachers union embraced as part of the just-concluded round of contract talks.

Empen said she hoped such negotiations would result in “better communication and a better culture and climate.”

This may be true for the internal situation at the school district.

But school districts are beholden to that large body of people known as taxpayers.

And taxpayers should not be shut out of such a major decision.

The argument is made that the taxpayers are represented by elected members of the school board. Why, therefore, would average members of the public – thousands of voters and taxpayers – need to be informed about specific details of a teachers contract?

Our position is that school board members represent the public, and they should take heed of the opinions of the public on major issues confronting the school district.

The contract that governs payment of millions of dollars for teachers’ salaries and benefits is a major issue.

It certainly was 3 years ago after teachers struck the district for 9 days until a tentative contract was reached.

Back in 2013, the school district at first had no plans to release details of the tentative deal until after its approval, but relented and released them 1 day before the school board’s scheduled vote.

That was, belatedly, the correct decision after a contentious strike.

But here in 2016, after noncontentious negotiations, the Dixon School District reverts to the playbook so common across Illinois – keeping details of teachers contracts a secret until after they’ve been approved?

That is the wrong decision.

The board has no reason to rush to ratify this contract. The old one doesn’t expire until June 30. Details about the new tentative contract could still be released, and the ratification vote, following public comment, could be put off until later in the month.

Sadly, the district’s stance toward contract secrecy speaks volumes about how its public officials regard the public – with disregard.

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