Palatine school-district contract a case study in how closed-door, government-union deals hurt taxpayers

Palatine school-district contract a case study in how closed-door, government-union deals hurt taxpayers

Palatine-area Community Consolidated School District 15 posted its 10-year contract with its teachers union more than a month after it had been signed, ensuring that potentially harmful contract provisions can only come to light after it is too late for students, parents and taxpayers to do anything about it.

Secret, backdoor dealmaking between governing bodies and government-worker unions often harms taxpayers, who are on the hook for paying for whatever deal comes out of these negotiations. Just look at what happened in Palatine-area Community Consolidated School District 15, where school-district officials signed an unprecedented 10-year contract with the Classroom Teachers’ Council on April 13. Not only was the deal negotiated on behalf of the district by the former head of the teachers union and includes steady raises in an area where incomes are stagnant, but the public is also just now getting to see the full terms of the agreement.

Shutting parents, students, other taxpayers out of the conversation

The school board had previously leaked aspects of the 10-year contract, such as annual salary increases, significant changes to the district’s salary tiering, and early retirement incentives. But it did not post the full contract until after the board’s meeting on May 25. Both students and taxpayers could be adversely affected by portions of the contract. And any negative impact is exacerbated by the fact that the district is stuck with the contract’s 10-year timeline even if it finds the contract’s provisions are academically or financially unsound. A child entering kindergarten in the 2016-2017 school year will not see changes made until he or she is in 10th grade.

Here are a couple of the harmful provisions included in the contract.

  1. Teacher scheduling. Under the previous contract, teachers were to report to their buildings or designated teaching areas at least 15 minutes before the school day begins. The new contract slashes that time to just five minutes. If the district finds that having teachers arrive at school just five minutes before students arrive negatively affects teacher preparation and, therefore, academic excellence, there is nothing that can be done until after the 10-year contract expires.
  1. Pensionable sick-day accumulation. Both students and taxpayers alike could be affected by the district’s changes to sick-day accumulation. The district already provided generous sick-leave benefits under the previous contract: Each teacher received 12 sick days a year – more than one per month of the academic calendar – and that sick time carried over from year to year without limit. Once a teacher accumulated 89 sick days, he or she would start receiving 15 sick days per school year. The new contract keeps those provisions and adds a new tier: Once a teacher has accumulated 170 sick days, he or she will start earning 24 sick days per school year, or more than two for each month of the academic calendar.

There is no limit in the contract to how many sick days a teacher can use in a year, and that could drastically affect students who need stability in the classroom.

Furthermore, up to two years of those sick days are pensionable, and that affects taxpayers statewide. Under the Teachers’ Retirement System, or TRS, a retiring teacher may receive up to two years, or 340 days, of credit for unused sick leave. In effect, this allows teachers to add two years of service toward their retirement. Because TRS is funded by the state and not by the district, the Palatine-area school board’s agreement to provide even more generous sick leave along with the unlimited accumulation impacts all Illinois taxpayers, from Cairo to Rockford, who are forced to pay for a portion of that pension funding.

Palatine’s example is the norm across Illinois

Unfortunately, the lack of transparency in the district’s actions, keeping the negotiations and contract undisclosed until finalized, is not uncommon. Across the state, negotiations with government-worker unions take place in secret, and contract provisions only come to light when it is too late for taxpayers to do anything about it.

The Palatine contract epitomizes the harm of such closed-door negotiations for taxpayers.

Without reform, the very taxpayers responsible for funding such government-union contracts have no say in what goes into them. In the meantime, students, residents and in this case, taxpayers across the state, suffer for it.

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