Palatine-Schaumburg school board member raises conflict-of-interest concerns

Palatine-Schaumburg school board member raises conflict-of-interest concerns

A District 211 board member is sitting in on negotiations with the same teachers union that bought her campaign signs during the 2017 District 211 school board election. But much more than yard signs, Illinois' collective bargaining laws for government worker unions stack the deck against local taxpayers.

A Palatine-area school district board member is facing conflict-of-interest concerns from a nonpartisan watchdog group. But that’s not the only thing local taxpayers should be worried about when it comes to contract negotiations.

The concerns rise from the fact that the school district’s teachers union bought campaign signs for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Board of Education Secretary Anna Klimkowicz during her 2017 election campaign, according to the Daily Herald.

Tucked in suburban Cook County, District 211 is the largest high school district in Illinois, boasting five high schools and two alternative high schools with a combined student enrollment of nearly 12,000. The district serves Palatine, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Inverness and parts of Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Rolling Meadows, Roselle, Streamwood and South Barrington.

Klimkowicz is currently sitting in on contract negotiations with Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, the union representing District 211’s teachers and the same union that bought her campaign signs.

Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says the situation creates an opportunity for a conflict of interest, according to the Daily Herald.

Contract talks between District 211’s bargaining team and the teachers union began in October 2017, with the teachers’ contract expiring in June 2018. These negotiations mark the first time a District 211 board member has ever been in the negotiating room for a teachers contract, Board President Mucia Burke told the Daily Herald.

The Illinois State Board of Elections found no evidence of misconduct from Klimkowicz, nor the two other board members whose campaign signs had been purchased by the teachers union in the run up to the 2017 school board election. All three board members were found by the State Board of Elections to have taken no unlawful action.

However, the State Board of Elections warned Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211 to give attribution of campaign funding sources going forward, or face a fine of up to $5,000.

While it’s unclear what effect Klimkowicz or the other board members who benefitted from the union’s campaign assistance will have on negotiations, what’s evident is that the state’s collective bargaining laws stack the deck against the taxpayers and students of District 211.

Made to lose

Illinois’ collective bargaining laws rig the negotiation process against taxpayers, creating an unfair system to the advantage of government worker unions.

First, unlike all of its neighboring states, Illinois has enshrined a “right to strike” in state law for most government workers, including teachers.

This gives teachers unions, such as Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, a trump card during negotiations. If the teachers union doesn’t get what it wants at the bargaining table, the union can threaten to walk out on students, leaving residents with an unfair ultimatum: give in to the union’s costly demands or risk lasting damage by doing without services.

Second, in addition to the “right to strike,” government worker unions also have virtually no limits on what can be negotiated for, leading to lengthy contract negotiations and creating overly generous benefits unheard of in the private sector.

Third, unlike other states, Illinois places no limits on the length of contracts negotiated, locking taxpayers into costly deals, regardless of future economic conditions. Palatine Township Elementary District 15, for example, reached a 10-year contract with its teachers union in 2016. Wisconsin, on the other hand, places a firm one-year limit on the length of contracts with general state and municipal workers, including teachers.

And as if all that weren’t enough, contract negotiations between school districts and teachers unions are not open to the public, meaning taxpayers don’t even know the details of a deal ­– that they’re paying for ­– until it’s too late.

Rising property taxes

These unfair collective bargaining rules have led to virtually perpetual property tax hikes across the state, including in District 211. In fact, District 211 board members voted 6-1 to hike the district’s property tax levy by 2.4 percent in November 2017, further exacerbating residents’ already high property tax bills.

Property taxes have been growing out of control in Palatine and across suburban Cook County for years. An Illinois Policy Institute study found that between 2000 and an average of years 2009-2013, the average property tax burden for Cook County residents grew by more than 63 percent.

Statewide, average property tax bills in Illinois grew six times faster than household incomes from 2008-2015.

Taxpayers in District 211 are tapped out, and the last thing they need is to be strong-armed into an unaffordable deal. But until state lawmakers reform one-sided collective bargaining rules for government unions, staving off higher property taxes will be a tough task.

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