Now that District 428 has some certainty about what it will pay its teachers for the next four school years, administrators and school board members should work on a plan to not only hold steady on the tax levy, but reduce it.
School board members on Tuesday approved a four-year contract with the 500 educators in the district's teachers union.
During the four years of the contract, teachers will receive annual wage increases of 1 to 2% a year, along with a 2.2% step increase for each year they gain in seniority. There also will be provisions for future stipends for teachers assigned to classes with more than a to-be-determined number of students and other items. Salaries will increase 15 percent over the life of the agreement.
From the taxpayers' perspective, we'd like that number to be a little lower. We consider property tax relief as critical for residents.
However, perhaps with some certainty about their funding needs going forward, the school board can actually do that.
Board members have shown some inclination that they're interested – their last tax levy was held flat year-over-year, with school board member Valerie Pena-Hernandez voting against it because she said the board could do better.
We agree, and want to see it happen.
The district's budget for last school year called for a surplus of about $2.4 million in the district's operating funds, thanks in part to changes in the state aid formula. The $100 million budget the board approved this week called for a $4 million surplus in those funds, although that will be reduced by about $900,000 to account for increases in teacher salaries under the new contract.
Certainly, building a contingency fund and being prepared for emergencies is prudent.
However, taxpayers should have limited interest in having the school district – or any government – hold on to their money for them.
The point of increasing state funding for schools is to reduce the local property tax burden, and the district has benefited from such an increase in recent years. If the district is consistently receiving more than it spends to educate students, and it can now project what its labor costs will be, then it is time to start planning for a way to reduce that rate and bring relief to property owners.
That should be a top priority for board members, who now know what the district must pay its teachers.