Byron Teachers, Administrators Agree To Salary Freeze

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By freezing their salaries through the 2006-2007 school year, Byron school teachers and administrators are sending a message to district taxpayers.

"We are in this together, and we are going to work on a financial solution as a team," Byron Superintendent Dr. Margaret Fostiak said.

The pay freeze comes after Ogle County reduced the Exelon nuclear plant's assessment significantly last month. It's being appealed, but if the new figure holds, the lessened value would force at least $1.3 million dollars in annual cuts from Byron's district tax base.

"Until this is settled, the future is pretty unclear, so it's a major factor in what we did," Byron Education Association's Craig Cross said.

To make up for the lost dollars, Byron's district will place two questions on a March referendum. One is a 30 cent education fund increase. The other - 28 million dollars in building bonds. If both fail, Byron's extracurricular programs will be cut, and registration fees will be raised.

"It would be pretty devastating. A lot of us are involved in those programs. We spend our lives here at school, and that would pretty much be cutting our lives in half," Byron Junior Amanda Martin said.

Meanwhile, after Byron voters rejected two similar referenda in 2005, some parents believe the district's salary freeze could turn the tide at the ballot box.

"I think it's a step in the right direction. I think the time before we went through this, that was the big thing that we did hear that the teachers made too much money," Karla Teater said.

Byron's school officials are optimistic about the referendum - and say the salary freeze is proof the decision would go toward student programs, not padding teachers’ wallets.

"I'm confident that they'll step up and I think can understand even more, so now that we've done all we can do, and if we don't, than those will be the consequences that we are facing," Cross said.

An Exelon nuclear plant spokesperson had no comment on Byron's district freeze. However, they tell 23 News that the plant - and the 11 taxing bodies it funds - are working on a long term financial agreement that all parties can accept.