The new contract ratified by the Riverside District 96 Board of Education earlier this month reportedly did not go over well with many teachers in the district. But, for taxpayers the contract represents a step forward.

What this contract represents, to us, is a stepping stone. Unlike many neighboring school districts, Riverside’s teachers with fewer than 10 years of experience will still receive step raises, which boost annual pay hikes above the base pay increases.

Step raises over time had the effect of boosting pay far above cost-of-living increases – in the old days it might mean 6 or 7 percent a year. Even with the new deal, those teachers still receiving step raises will get annual pay hikes of 4 percent or so.

That’s great for them, but it’s not so great for taxpayers, whose paychecks have flat-lined and who see the lion’s share of their property tax payments going to local school districts.

Eliminating step raises makes school finance more transparent, and other school districts have learned to incentivize teachers looking to boost their pay, by encouraging advanced degrees and continuing education.

We want teachers to be fairly compensated, but we also want to be sure local taxpayers feel good about writing that tax check twice a year. In a district where a 2004 referendum resulted in a huge increase of tax revenue that allowed it to squirrel away millions of dollars, asking employees to hold raises at cost-of-living levels shouldn’t be  hard to do.

Future school boards should work to chip away at remaining step raises to reduce the burden on local taxpayers and make future expenses more transparent.