Kinnikinnick school board keeps teacher contract under wraps

Kinnikinnick school board keeps teacher contract under wraps

The taxpayers footing the bill will be left in the dark until after the contract is finalized.

The board of Kinnikinnick School District 131, located in Roscoe, Illinois, announced on Feb. 20 it had reached a tentative five-year contract with its teachers union.

The union’s membership is expected to vote on the agreement today, while the school board is slated to follow suit on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Until its approval, the contract will be kept under wraps. This means the taxpayers footing the bill will be left in the dark until after the contract is finalized.

This is significant because teacher salaries in Kinnikinnick amount to about $8 million a year, or 45 percent of the district’s budget.

A property taxpayer with a $100,000 home in Roscoe paid $3,284 in property taxes last year. More than $500 of that was spent on teacher salaries in Kinnikinnick.

Despite the enormity of this expense, taxpayers are barred from knowing about the contract’s terms until it’s too late.

Tonya White, the school board’s vice president, said the contract is not a matter of public record.

But the Freedom of Information Act states that “all records relating to the obligation, receipt and use of public funds” belonging to state and local governments are subject to public inspection.

This provision certainly applies to union contracts, which obligate a good chunk of public money.

Kinnikinnick school-board member Chelsea Benson said she is new to the process, but that her instinct was that the board should let the public see the contract beforehand.

“I would fully support if there was a way to open it up,” she said. “I think everyone’s cards should be on the table.”

In a Feb. 23 email to the Illinois Policy Institute, Kinnikinnick Superintendent Keli Freedlund said the contract’s concepts are being translated into language.

“Even though we have tentatively agreed, I have been in contact with the union and the board committees several times to clarify the parties’ intent,” she wrote. “The parties have agreed to wait for all language to be produced and all clarifications made prior to public release.”

Certainly, the board and union will vote on an actual document, not a series of concepts. This begs the question: Why is there such a hurry to pass a document that likely involves spending more than $40 million over five years?

To be fair, Kinnikinnick is not alone in this secrecy. It is a statewide tradition.

Earlier this month, Bloomington School District 87 reached a tentative deal with its teachers and kept its contract under wraps until the board approved it nearly two weeks later.

Two years ago, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, introduced House Bill 2689, which would require tentative contracts between public bodies and unions be posted online for at least 14 days before a vote. After that, a public hearing would be held before a contract could be approved.

That bill has gone nowhere.

Under current law, unions and districts are already required to file their final offers with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which then posts them online. In Kinnikinnick, the two sides did just that.

Given the relative transparency in the bargaining process, it makes little sense that the final product is considered secret by the Kinnikinnick school board. Why not take another step toward greater transparency for those who pay the bills?

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