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posted: 11/23/2012 11:07 AM

Geneva tax watchdog applauds new teacher contract

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A Geneva group with arguably the most critical eye toward any local tax increases called the provisions unveiled so far in the new Geneva District 304 teacher contract "a major win" for local taxpayers.

Geneva school board members ratified a new three-year teacher contract Tuesday night. The teachers union ratified the same contract last week, avoiding a strike. Two of the major provisions in the new contract are a pay freeze for nearly all teachers in the current school year and the formation of a study group to look at ways to tie teacher compensation more directly to performance.

"I think it's actually a major win for the school board in getting the freeze, but also standing together and negotiating a contract that is really due to the economic times," said Bob McQuillan, the leader of TaxFACTS. "I think they've listened to the community, and they've realized that things are still not going well for people. I think it's a win for the community, too."

McQuillan also praised the move toward tying teacher pay to performance.

"It doesn't really make much sense that a second-grade teacher with 20 years experience makes $80,000 while the new second-grade teacher across the hall is making $40,000," McQuillan said. "One teacher is not twice as good as the other teacher just because she's been around for 20 years."

But the battle is not over for TaxFACTS. The group is still pushing a tax levy freeze for the school district. School board members are currently poised to approve a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy. McQuillan said, while he supports the new teacher contract, the provision that calls for a 2.65 percent raise for most teachers is a blow against the push to freeze the levy.

TaxFACTS will host a series of presentations prior to the final vote on the levy to make the case for no increase. McQuillan said he will show how there is still money to be saved in the school district's transportation and operations and maintenance funds. For example, he believes it may be more cost effective to purchase rather than lease school buses. Alternatively, he'd like to see what outsourcing the busing of students would cost.

McQuillan said the district has ample reserves. There is no need for the district to increase taxes at this time. If the need for a tax increase arises down the road, the school district should do it through a referendum, he said.

"The problem is they are afraid if they went to a referendum they won't get it," McQuillan said. "So this tax levy has been their built-in cushion every year to get more money. It's an easy cop-out. If you really need the money in four or five years, then all you do is ask voters for a tax rate increase. If you've been holding the line, then the community will understand now we need a one-time tax rate increase."

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