Oak Park and River Forest High School's narrowly approved teachers contract didn't make everyone happy, and left some long-time faculty feeling especially cheated. However, while we have a great deal of respect for the many teachers who have dedicated the majority of their careers to this community, we believe that this would not be a contract that is respectful of taxpayers if someone didn't feel a little pain.
Some teachers are disappointed that the high school is giving higher raises to younger teachers. The administration and school board say the current salaries they offer new teachers are not competitive with other districts. It seems to us that raising the salaries for new teachers is a reasonable approach to correcting an imbalance, one that we hope will only have to be corrected once.
What really is upsetting to some is that to pay younger teachers more, the high school is offering veteran teachers smaller increases. While this may seem unfair to longtime faculty, to us, it shows the high school has a strong commitment to the trade-offs that need to be made in a time when taxpayers are overburdened, and when the high school is now addressing rising insurance premiums and pension costs that drive up the cost of education everywhere.
And, above all, it is important to note that all teachers are still receiving decent pay raises at a time when raises in all professions are quite small.
Retirement benefits are also a sticking point. However, we strongly support the high school's recognition that heavily subsidizing teachers' early retirement was, in many ways, a mistake. Though we understand how this upsets teachers who have already laid out retirement plans, it is a policy that needs to be curtailed. The community benefits from a balance of veteran and new teachers, and to keep that benefit, it is required that older faculty stick around for a few more years.
A new development in ecomomic development
We've seen more activity on the economic development front in Oak Park in recent years. But the news that a trio of retail and office buildings at Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard are likely to be developed or redeveloped in some way seems, well, a little different (and no, it's not because our office is just across the street.)
These are not the vacant, obsolete Mar Lac House, or an empty parking lot at Harlem and Ontario, or an ugly salt storage lot at Harlem and Garfield, or some crummy building on Madison Street. These buildings are in a thriving retail area, and house some well liked?#34;if not beloved?#34;retailers, like Val's halla. They're reasonably attractive, if somewhat underutilized, buildings.
We're not opposed to seeing some change for the better over there, and creating additional housing in business districts seems to be the strategy for success. But this is a project that will have to be handled with tact, and respect for those long-time businesses that have broad community support.
Developing the ugly and the vacant has created enough controversy. Improving already successful areas will be a whole new challenge for Oak Park.