Editorial: End school board ritual of secrecy on teacher pay

  • The Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board approved a 75-page contract without ever seeing it.

    The Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board approved a 75-page contract without ever seeing it. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/4/2016 2:00 PM

Most suburban school board members are good people, dedicated to serving the community.

But particularly when it comes to labor contracts, most of them operate within the confines of a ritual of secrecy that undermines that service.


It is time for that to change.

Many local government boards and councils follow a practice of first, second and third readings.

The point of that isn't for the board members to give up the republican authority vested in them as elected representatives of the people.

The point is to enable those representatives to hear from their constituents and to consider their views.

A proposal is given a first reading in large part to serve notice to the public with enough detail and enough time that the people have the opportunity to offer their advice and express their concerns.

Occasionally, this practice leads to major uproars. Usually, it does not.

But in either case, the greater good is served. The governed have a chance to be heard -- and as importantly, to feel that they have been heard, thus strengthening the government's credibility and building the public confidence that is essential to any democracy.

And in either case, the representatives have a chance to be influenced by those they represent, which is not a bad thing.

This is a fundamentally sound approach to governance -- one that reinforces a philosophy of government by the people and for the people rather than a haughty cynicism that our governors know best.

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Unfortunately, it's not an approach most school boards use when it comes to labor contracts.

Readers of this space know we have been taking the school board in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 to task for voting to approve a 10-year contract it had never seen and then failing to release that contract to the public for six weeks.

As Daily Herald Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin pointed out in a column on Wednesday, District 15 school board members are not alone. Several other school boards follow a similar pattern of secrecy.

It was refreshing to learn from Griffin's research that school boards in two suburban districts -- Crystal Lake High School District 155 and St. Charles Unit District 303 -- take a more open approach and make the contracts available when they are approved. We commend them for their spirit of transparency.

But even that is not enough. Area school boards have an obligation to release contract proposals well in advance of any votes. There should be a first reading that provides the public with detailed notice before the contracts come before the boards for final action.

That ritual of transparency should be standard procedure.

For those who disagree, we ask what harm would result?

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