It’s impossible to know whether it will have any meaningful result, but the fact that the Riverside-Brookfield High School board has asked the teacher’s union to sit down and talk turkey on the district’s financial situation is a much-needed and appropriate first step.

While any real, lasting reform regarding education funding and funding Illinois’ crushing pension obligations will have to come from the state legislature, the effects of the state’s financial problems are beginning to be felt in a very real way locally.

State aid for schools – from elementary districts to community colleges like Triton – is being slashed. In District 95, which serves both Brookfield and LaGrange Park, general state aid payments amounted to $750,000 in 2008-09. This school year, that number dropped to $533,500. Next year it will drop below $400,000.

Triton College, meanwhile, is in actual danger of closing down all together after the state announced it wasn’t coming through with $4 million in promised funding this year and may not come up with a similar amount next year.

Funding for education in Illinois is in crisis. Unfortunately, the solution is for officials to come to taxpayers and ask for yet more money to help pay for a system that has yet to find ways to keep costs under control and to manage out-of-control pension debt.

Reform is essential and teachers must realize that they must participate in reforming a system that has helped bankrupt the state. Teachers aren’t alone, of course. But, locally, the vast majority of tax dollars go to pay for education and, frankly, taxpayers simply need relief.

Make no mistake. Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside voters have been extremely generous when it comes to supporting the funding of education. Voters – both at the elementary and high school levels – have overwhelmingly approved tax increases to fund teachers’ salaries, programs and building projects that have improved the quality of education and have made these communities desirable places to live.

That commitment to education will not waiver. However, taxpayers cannot be alone in this commitment. If programs and education are to remain at a high level locally, then it’s also incumbent on teachers to realize they must partner with taxpayers to give them at least short-term relief.

No one wants benefits reduced or pay frozen. Yet, it is happening all around us. Teachers and school administrators cannot assume they are immune to this reality. And while it will not be easy or even palatable, the discussions that will begin in March between District 208 officials and the teachers union are essential.

Teachers, you have always been able to count on taxpayers of this area in times of crisis and need. Can taxpayers count on you?