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Stop those pay hikes by lame-duck officials

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



You are a school board member who loses an election.

But you remain in office for several weeks before your replacement takes over.

What do you do? You hand new contracts and pay raises to school employees.

That is wrong. You know it. I know it. Even the elected officials who indulge in this sort of nonsense know it. They just don’t care.

But this is something that can be fixed.

This newspaper reported last week on two Southland school districts where this sort of stuff happened.

In Summit Hill District 161, the superintendent and about a dozen administrators were given pay raises.

And in New Lenox District 122, the school board voted to give administrative and noncertified staff an across-the-board raise of 2.2 percent.

I received a call on Friday from a source who claimed that the Bloom Township High School District 206 Board might do something similar on Monday.

“This is why they were voted out,” one parent in District 161 told SouthtownStar staff writer Susan DeMar Lafferty.

Well, there’s a way for state legislators to remedy this abuse of power.

Illinois law already states that elected officials can only increase their salaries up to 180 days prior to an election, and pay increases cannot take effect until after the election is over.

That means that before an elected official can get his new money, voters have a chance to kick him of office.

The same sort of prohibition could be placed on new contracts for existing school superintendents, school managers or village managers.

It may be impossible to legislate moral and ethical behavior, but there are ways of legally preventing the abuse of power.

A lame-duck board is one that has members who are leaving office. These people may have chosen not to run for re-election or lost an election due to their unpopular decisions.

Such a board should take no action other than that necessary to keep schools running on a day-to-day basis. Approving new contracts for administrators or handing out pay raises to employees not required by a prior contract is a violation of the public’s trust.

In school district elections in particular, the performance of the superintendent is often a key issue.

These folks make a lot of money, often as much as $200,000 a year. Their contracts can contain perks that include cars, vacation time, sick leave, mortgage payments and buyout clauses.

School board members who have been booted out of office following a contentious race about the abilities of the superintendent may want to give the guy a new contract out of spite or some sense of misguided justice.

There are times when a superintendent is unfairly maligned during an election campaign. But the fact is, if new members join a school board, replacing administrators may be one of their top priorities.

At the very least, the new members may want to see up close how the superintendent reacts to their suggestions for change before giving him a new contract.

The public deserves some legislative protection from lame-duck officials who don’t understand that.

Local political campaigns can be as bitter and divisive as anything you witness on the national stage. These contests, after all, tend to pit neighbor against neighbor.

And school board elections bring out maternal and paternal instincts of people because the future of their children is at stake.

Finally, school districts handle millions of tax dollars, and their boards are not immune to corruption and influence peddling.

By failing to adequately finance public schools in Illinois, state lawmakers have thrown the burden onto the backs of property owners. Your local public schools amount to nearly 70 percent of the typical property tax bill.

And with the state potentially cutting education funding to save money, school districts are going to face some very hard decisions during the next year.

Lawmakers in Springfield ought to at least give people the authority to put in place the reforms they promised voters during an election campaign.

It is mind-boggling in this economic climate that any public body could be so insensitive as to increase spending as board members-elect wait to take office.

Any school board that doesn’t understand the need to hold the line on spending and reduce administrative costs deserves to be replaced.

And, frankly, any superintendent who would accept a new contract, or contract extension, from a lame-duck board probably doesn’t deserve the money he’s being paid.



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