The Wayne Highlands School Board is in an unenviable position.
By state law, the board must submit a preliminary budget to the state by the end of this month. (See our detailed story on page 1.)
However, even the state doesn't present a preliminary budget until February and that is subject to major changes.
We all know the state of the federal budget.
Yet the board still has to take some kind of action and they did just that on Friday, voting to request exceptions from the state which could translate into yet another property tax increase for district taxpayers.
Could is the key word.
It's understandable why the board has to take this action. It's to compensate for the unknown factors in budgeting — and those are many.
But the biggest obstacle, in no uncertain terms, is the pending contract negotiations between the board and the Wayne Highlands Education Association.
All you have to do is look at the numbers.
Salaries and benefits make up 72 percent of the total dollars spent from the general fund. That's nearly three-fourths of the money.
Over the past five years, the teachers have benefited from fully paid insurance premiums and decent raises averaging about 4 percent a year.
That contract was crafted and signed before the American economy went straight into the tank.
The realities of that time and the realities of today are completely different.
In today's economy, the resources just aren't there. Taxpayers have been squeezed each and every year and school taxes have risen consistently over the past two decades.
It's getting to the point where the people simply can't keep up with the taxes. Unlike those working under the contract, most working people have not seen any increases in wages for quite some time.
With the recent ending of the payroll tax holiday, most working people have actually seen a decrease in wages.
The same can be said for insurance. Most people have watched their insurance premiums spike over the past decade while their salaries have stayed stagnant.
The time has come for some changes when it comes to contracts for teachers and others who collective bargain.
They have every right to do collective bargaining. However, they also have an obligation to take a look at the big picture and see how people are hurting.
For teachers to have to pay some of their insurance premiums is not asking too much. In fact, it is asking very little.
For them to be reasonable when it comes to bargaining for salaries is also not asking too much.
Page 2 of 2 - People are hurting and this must be understood.
The other side of this issue involves the Wayne Highlands School Board members.
The time has come for them to draw a line in the sand. They have gotten the message loud and clear over the past six months that people are fed up and want change.
The board has to realize the taxpayers are hurting. And hurting badly.
Even if the situation gets ugly, that should not matter to the board members. The public is well aware of the situation and would almost assuredly side with the board if they do draw a line in the sand and don't move.
This time, the board needs to insist that its employees contribute to the insurance costs. This should not even be in question.
Another big matter is the length of the contract.
Sure, it would be great to get a long-term deal, however, with the volatile politics and economy in this country, it doesn't make any sense. Even if it's just a two year deal, that should be sufficient.
Both sides should want this because if things suddenly get better in a year or so, that could be beneficial.
The time has come for a reality check. It can wait no longer.
The answers are not going to come from the state or federal government. They lie in the hands of the elected school board and they must step up to the plate and make it happen.
Members of the teacher's union, too, have an obligation to be reasonable and understand reality.
In fact, both sides need to be in touch with reality and give the taxpayers a break.
It's the right thing to do.