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posted: 4/23/2010 12:01 AM

High-schooler's letter crystallizes education debate

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An interesting confluence of information in Thursday's Daily Herald:

• A Page 1 centerpiece on teachers converging on Springfield, demanding state lawmakers find the revenue needed to "save our schools" and presumably teachers' jobs.

• A Page 5 story on the teachers union in DuPage High School District 88, which includes Addison Trail and Willowbrook high schools, rejecting contract concessions aimed at saving as many as 16 teaching positions.

• An opinion page letter to the editor from Kadie Chapman, a sophomore at Addison Trail, lamenting the teacher layoffs. She asks for "someone" to find a solution "because school officials and the state government obviously can't."

Out of the mouths of babes ...

Kadie views this education funding problem in pure and simple terms. Students have bonded with many of the teachers; one on the chopping block, Kadie says, is a "go-to" teacher for many kids. Further, she wrote, Addison Trail is known for offering an array of electives. Many of those are in peril because of $3.2 million in proposed cuts, including elimination of Torch, the student newspaper.

"Some of Addison Trail's students dream of becoming a writer for a newspaper," she said in her letter, a project for her journalism class, "but how are they supposed to achieve their goal if they can't practice writing for one?"

I'm going to presume that the teachers put on dismissal notice are younger, newer, nontenured teachers. And their union had a chance to save some of those teachers' jobs, but opted not to give back anything in their current contract.

Now, good for the union for even agreeing to come to the table and consider making some concessions; not every union is doing that. But, despite an estimated five meetings, they and the school administration couldn't find common ground. I'd be happy to explain the teachers' reasoning behind not giving up something to save some of their teaching brethren, but their president couldn't be reached for our story, ironically, because she was in Springfield, lobbying the state legislature to save the schools.

Earlier in the week, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the basics on how much it will cost taxpayers in Lake Park High School District 108 to cover the departure of Superintendent John Butts with more than two years left on his contract. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a king's ransom, but does any school district need any unplanned-for expenses?

And, maybe there is a very good explanation for why District 108 and Butts had to part ways, but no one's talking, citing a confidentiality agreement that was part of the superintendent's buyout.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a spat between the Daily Herald and Naperville Unit District 203. Basically, we wrote a headline the district didn't like, and the district called it inaccurate in the e-mail blast it sends to thousands of people. City Editor Bob Smith fired off a letter of complaint to administrators and school board members. This simmered for a while, but now I'm happy to report that we've established a dialogue. I'm not sure we're ever going to completely see eye to eye, but at least we're talking. And agreeing to talk in the future.

Sometimes, there's a lamentable lack of communication between the media and people who handle the public's business, another irony in this era of endless ways to communicate.

Believe me, we don't relish peppering a story with: "Soandso couldn't be reached for comment." It's necessary, I often tell our reporters, to show our readers we've tried. But ultimately, when we can't get people to talk about the public's business, we've failed the public, too.