Herald-Whig View

School Board, QF resourceful in reaching deal

Posted: Nov. 26, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 27, 2017 8:04 am

THE Quincy School Board and the Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel should be applauded for being resourceful under difficult circumstances to reach an agreement on a new contract and avoid a strike neither side wanted.

The result was a four-year deal ratified last week that will run through the 2020-21 school year, providing both stability and ample time for both sides to work together toward solutions to financial concerns both sides recognized were the central issue during months of negotiations.

In the end, the union agreed to the School Board's offer of raises of 2.4, 1.5 and 1.7 percent in the first three years of the contract. However, the board readily accepted a QF proposal to boost raises to as much as 2 percent in the second and third years of the deal if sufficient additional state revenue materializes.

Moreover, the union proposed tacking on the fourth year when each employee will receive a $850 raise, rather than a percentage increase, a step toward narrowing the salary gap between many of the subgroups QF represents.

The 11th-hour maneuvering clearly signals a victory for all sides.

Not only can the district continue to wisely manage its money in challenging times, employees will see their salaries rise for four straight years, with the possibility of that compensation increasing. Equally important, students have remained in the classroom.

However, long-term concerns do remain. Quincy, like many school districts across Illinois, continues to experience serious financial pressures despite passage of a new education funding formula.

The district's education fund tax rate has remained at $1.84 since it was capped by the Illinois General Assembly in 1988, putting it among the lowest of the 50-plus schools that are members of the state's Large Unit District Association.

That means any additional revenue beyond the natural growth of property values must come from outside the district. Even though the Illinois Constitution calls for the state to have "the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education," the state is providing only 26 percent of that necessary funding.

As a result, expenses have exceeded revenue in four consecutive years in Quincy, with a cumulative shortfall of slightly more than $3.4 million. The 2017-18 budget approved by the School Board in September showed a projected $814,607 deficit that would lower the year-end fund balance to $3.211 million, which would cover expenses for only two-thirds of a month.

The new education funding formula is expected to provide more money for Quincy beginning this school year because the district has a high number of students living in poverty, employee wages are deemed low compared to other districts and funding from local property taxes is considered inadequate.

However, it will be early next year before the district learns how much additional funding it will receive, and no one believes that infusion alone will be a permanent fix.

Solving those financial issues will be necessary to address other critical concerns.

Compensation has unquestionably lagged for many Quincy school employees, a major reason why Quincy's teacher retention rate has steadily fallen to an unacceptable 72.7 percent -- the lowest among districts in Adams, Brown, Hancock and Pike counties, according to the 2017 Illinois Report Card.

Other factors contributing to what has been described as a "revolving door" have been increased class size and caseloads, less planning time, and more paperwork and after-school demands -- all impacting the educational opportunities for students.

Addressing those issues will take time, but negotiating teams for both sides should be congratulated for realizing that an important first step was to resolve key differences, produce an equitable contract and avoid a divisive work stoppage.

By doing so, the district, union membership and community can now work toward achieving a shared objective -- making Quincy Public Schools a destination for the best and brightest administrators, teachers and support personnel.

Clearly, a vibrant school system is vital to the future of children and the community.