We are heartened by news that District 97, Oak Park’s public elementary schools, may be nearing a new contract with faculty. After hosting two negotiation sessions in a single week — remember, these talks have been going on since early 2014 — the district’s spokesman was willing to go so far as calling this a “tentative” contract.

However, the district’s proviso that final language and terms must still be settled “from a legal standpoint” with a goal of ratifying the contract by Thanksgiving, gives us slight pause as to how final this all might be.

And it gives us perhaps a final opportunity to urge the school board, Oak Park Teachers Association negotiators and the district administration to assure themselves, and taxpayers, that they are closing in on the “transformative and sustainable agreement” that their statement promises. 

“Transformative” is an ambitious word and one that will not be satisfied with tinkering around the edges of key issues, such as performance incentives for great teachers, an actual end to the nonsense of steps and lanes as a way to dole out taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, and continued sincere efforts to craft a performance evaluation for teachers that is both respectful of the art of teaching yet based on high expectations. And, obviously, we expect pay raises that are as modest as those in the private sector during the recent tough years.

In 2011, in the midst of our national economic meltdown, Oak Park voters remarkably, and rightly, passed a tax increase referendum for a financially tapped out school system. Wednesday Journal supported that referendum largely because the school board promised broad change in our approach to public education and that the next teachers contract would be one of the tools to make that change real. 

That contract is this contract. The moment for transformative change is here. Now. 

To its credit, this school district has said it is planning its next referendum for 2017. We don’t yet know the particulars of the argument the district will make. But we do know the argument they made last time. D97 was going to be a leader in changing public education, in education reform. This “tentative” contract will be tangible proof— or not — that the promise is being kept, that our public schools have earned a fair hearing on that next referendum.

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