Contract negotiation is a give and take that usually ends up with a deal somewhere between what each of the parties wants.
That's why it's important for everyone involved to have a seat at the bargaining table.
Yet, taxpayers missed out on direct representation in negotiations between teachers unions and two local school districts. That's because the schools' boards -- made up of those elected to lead on behalf of the taxpayers -- opted out of participating in the talks.
In Palatine Township Elementary District 15, that left collective bargaining in the hands of three teachers representing the union and three administrators: Superintendent Scott Thompson, Chief School Business Official Mike Adamczyk and Lisa Nuss, the executive director of personnel and human services who formerly was the union president and led negotiations for the teachers four years ago.
All six most likely worked very hard toward an agreement they thought best served District 15. Yet, every person on both sides of the negotiations is in line for a public pension through the state's Teachers' Retirement System, an indication of a possible lack of diverse views in reaching an unprecedented 10-year contract notable for a significant early retirement incentive.
It's possible a negotiating team with board members at the table would have come up with the same contract. Still, the viewpoints of taxpayers were not directly represented, and they should have been. In contrast, could you imagine teachers not including their representatives on the bargaining team?
We don't know why District 15's board went this route. Board President Peggy Babcock would not comment. Thompson said only that the board was updated regularly and had plenty of input.
Among 21 suburban school districts that signed new agreements, extended existing contracts or are in negotiations this year, only one other did not have a board member on the negotiating team. Naperville Unit District 203 hasn't had board members in negotiating sessions since contentious 2005 contract talks nearly resulted in a strike. The district finalized a new three-year contract on Monday.
Back in District 15, the makeup of the negotiating team is just one way taxpayers were left on the sidelines.
Board members voted unanimously in April for a contract they had never seen, using administrators' assurances and a three-page summary as the basis for a vote obligating taxpayers -- and future board members -- for a decade. Then, they failed to release the 75-page contract to the public for six weeks, despite Freedom of Information Act requests by the Daily Herald and others.
Too casual, too unquestioning, too secretive. That's how the District 15 board handled its most significant task, committing hundreds of millions of dollars that will be paid by taxpayers today through 2026.