Editorial: Change law to push formality of contract votes

In its denial last week of the Daily Herald's request for documents the Palatine Elementary District 15 school board used in casting a binding vote on a 10-year teacher's contract 2½ months ago, the state attorney general's office concluded: "The district stated that, at the time of the request, it possessed only 'underlying draft proposals that were exchanged during the negotiation process that ultimately led to the agreement and written working drafts of contract language.'

"This office has not received any information indicating that a written contract existed at the time of the requests."

This has been our point ever since the vote was taken. If what the school board voted on in mid-April was solid enough for a formal vote, it should have been made public then. And it should be made public now.

The school board only had a framework for a contract when it voted to formally ratify it. With no further votes scheduled on final language. It did not release the completed contract for six weeks.

Approving contracts in such a way creates a pig in a poke for the school district, for teachers ... and let's not forget, the taxpayers.

While the school district eventually released the contract, using the school district's and Attorney General's logic, a government body could conceivably keep a contract private forever. The governing board could pass the contract, and be working and grieving under it, but as long as it still is considered a "draft," the public has no access to it.

This is a poor excuse for transparency. It's bad business.

And it's terrible law.

Attorney Don Craven, an advocate for the Illinois Press Association and an expert on media law, is dumbfounded by the Attorney General's response.

"How can you vote to approve a document that doesn't exist, or only exists in someone's mind?" he told our reporter Erin Hegarty Friday.

Ten-year teacher contracts simply cannot be handshake deals. It's irresponsible governance.

We challenge the legitimacy of the contract vote. We call upon suburban legislators to develop a bill that would set clear transparency standards for this kind of vote and for Gov. Rauner to sign it.

It is one thing for a board to take action on a draft contract that still might require a minor tweak, but to vote formally for a contract based on a memo that has yet to be put into contract form - and with no subsequent vote for a finalized version - is irresponsible or illegal or both.

In addition, we reiterate that with issues of this magnitude, the public be made given an outline of the terms before the issue even goes to a vote.

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