As a former school board member in Naperville CUSD 203, I have long been an admirer of the Family Taxpayers Foundation and its use of clear facts to enlighten Illinoisans about their education system. FTF’s recent August 24 article, “Over 200 Illinois public school systems post above average pay increases,” is a timely and important piece.
The reason for this alarming statistic is quite simple: not enough people vote during school board elections which results in union-endorsed school board members getting elected who are going to cater to, or cower to, the teachers’ union that helped them get elected.
Back during our 2005 negotiations with the District 203 NUEA, our board was comprised of five fiscal liberals and two fiscal conservatives. After months of negotiating, our fiscally-liberal board majority had bid against themselves to the point where they were offering the union an unbelievable three-year 15% offer.
But the NUEA president said the offer “was not showing the teachers enough respect,” so the 203 teachers voted to strike if the offer wasn’t increased. Despite the fact that District 203 revenue is limited by a voter-enacted property tax cap, and the fact that taxpayers are not realizing these kinds of raises, this offer was already exceedingly excessive. And the community knew it.
Never had the school board received as many emails from the community—the overwhelming majority of which were imploring the board to hold firm and not go beyond the already excessive offer. What did the board do? On the eve before school was to start, and with several board members crying, they voted 5-2 to enhance the offer to 15.6%. Keep in mind this is just the base plus step increase. It leaves out the other additional income benefits included by the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).
Do not fall for the union’s mantra that “teachers are underpaid.” Teachers today are paid very well. According to TRS data, teachers and administrators employed in District 203 between 2000 and 2006 have received total compensation increases averaging 7.2%. Clearly, ours is one of the 200 school systems posting above average pay increases.
But the very real and worrisome reality of these excessive pay increases is the fact they do absolutely nothing to improve academic achievement. Since its inception 30-plus years ago, the socioeconomics in this fine community has enabled District 203 to produce high-caliber students for decades—academics have never been a function of spending.
Or look at it from another way. It took this district approximately 22 years to reach $100 million in spending during a time of significant enrollment growth. In the next 11 years, spending increased to $196 million (96%) at a time when student enrollment increased by 3%. And no new buildings were built during this time. This is what happens when fiscally irresponsible board members are put in charge of 73% of the property taxes, and when they treat taxpayer like ATMs. And it’s also why the majority of school districts in Illinois are running deficits.
District 203 is now busy planning for its second referendum in eight years. This time it’s not about bailing them out of a deficit; it’s about bricks and mortar. The theme for the campaign is: “Touch the Future.” It has a nice ring to it doesn’t it. But where have all the tens of millions gone? Why is there even a need for a facilities referendum?
We’re now back full circle to the topic at hand: above average pay increases. There comes a time when voters have to wake up and stop rewarding such fiscally irresponsible behavior in their school districts. After all, you don’t reward bad behavior from your children do you? A more appropriate theme for taxpayers would be: “Heed the Past.” It’s not about a couple of hundred dollar increase on your property tax bill; it’s a matter of principle.
Plato said, “We assume people who know how to get votes know how to administer a city or a state.” Don’t make this assumption because when it comes to school board candidates, it’s definitely not true. Study your school board candidates very carefully. Find out who the teachers’ union is endorsing. And most importantly, get off your butts and vote! Your taxes and your children’s education can again be in your control.