DIXON, Ill. – The education of nearly 3,000 Illinois students came to an abrupt halt Thursday morning when Dixon teachers went on strike to protest the school board’s refusal to meet their demands for a 30 percent pay raise over a five-year span.

The strike could last awhile, as the district and union remain far apart on the issue of a pay raise, along with a host of other matters.

Dixon Education Association members have been working under the terms of their expired contract since last August, reports WHBF.com.

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The DEA – the local teachers union – is demanding “salary increases averaging around 6 percent for each” of the next five years, which would cause “an individual teacher’s salary (to) increase from 20 percent to over 40 percent by the end of the five-year period,” the district reports on its website.

Board members say they can’t afford such a drastic increase, given that the district is running a seven-figure deficit this school year and may be in the same situation next year, if state lawmakers cut K-12 school aid.

The union and the school board are also at loggerheads over health insurance expenses. Union members contribute from $50 to $150 a month toward their insurance costs, while the district pays $500 to $1,300 each month per employee, along with any premium increases that may occur.

School leaders say the health insurance costs “are becoming increasingly unsustainable,” and want DEA members to help shoulder those expenses. Union members have flatly rejected that proposal, according to the district’s website.

Of all the issues separating the two sides, it’s the early retirement plan that should cause outrage among Dixon taxpayers.

According to the district’s website, the current “early retirement plan provides for higher than normal raises to teachers in their last four years of employment, artificially increasing the teachers’ pension and placing an additional burden on an already burdened state pension system.”

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The board wants to end the early retirement plan, but the union has reportedly rejected any changes to the plan.

While taxpayers should be happy that their school board wants to end this pension-padding scheme, they should be disgusted that school officials ever allowed it to occur in the first place.

The teachers union has been raiding the district’s bank account, and school leaders have let them – probably in an effort to maintain peace with the district’s labor unions.

The reality is that Dixon taxpayers have been getting double-teamed by their school board and union leaders for years. And if it weren’t for Illinois’ current state employee pension mess, the cowardly district leaders would almost certainly keep quiet about this pension scheme.

This realization should make it very difficult for Dixon residents to take sides in the current strike.

As one parent told WHBF.com, “I put the blame on both sides.”