I  've been trying to resist saying this during the financial recovery process in which the York City School District finds itself.

But it needs to be said: The teachers' union is a whole bunch of days late and an even bigger bunch of dollars short when it comes to being part of the solution in the district's transformation.

And I say that knowing full well that probably 70 percent or more of the overall district budget is consumed by teachers' salaries and benefits.

So teachers absolutely needed to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Finances demanded it.

That being the case, where have the teachers and administrators and school board members been for the last 20 years as the city school district has been slip-sliding down the drain?

Yes, teachers agreed a few times over the years to a freeze on salary increases. But it was always short term. And it was never enough to get the job done.

When an offer of a 20 percent cut in salaries and benefits might have been a step in the right direction, they were asking for increases higher than the national rate of inflation. Then they'd settle for a 2 percent increase per year and act like they were doing taxpayers a huge favor.

Here we are all these years later and even after back-to-back-to-back years of eliminating teaching positions, shutting down schools and watching a third of the student body head off to charter schools, the district is still feeling the crush of more money going out than coming in.

So at least let's be honest here: The truth of the matter is the teachers' union wasn't seeing the forest for the trees. It was all about not losing financial ground, earned during decades of contract negotiations, when it should have been about making sacrifices necessary to fight off financial disaster.

Especially since the teachers' union knew full well its contract was chewing up 70 percent or more of the total budget.

Hey, I don't want to criticize the teachers too much for not wanting to give money back. I don't blame them at all for wanting to be paid at least in the same ballpark with their peers teaching at the other 15 school districts in York County.

But at some point didn't someone need to recognize that the entire shebang was in danger of going down the tubes if someone didn't bend enough to save the day?

I'm guessing a lot of teachers -- especially those who have been around the longest -- might have seen the light at the end of the tunnel narrowing over the years. But they probably figured nothing too drastic would happen until after they retired.

But here we are, on the brink of financial disaster.

The state is on the verge of a takeover. The state has placed the York City School District in moderate financial recovery status. They've appointed a chief recovery officer. A 20-person committee was formed. Ideas for transforming the district have been kicked around the block.

And now we're basically down to two options, both of which amount to a complete overhaul of the district.

Short a miracle or an idea no one has come up with yet, either the city school district will be converted into a bunch of independent charter schools or the professional educators will be given one more chance at internal transformation.

The charter school option would call for the furlough of just about all of the employees now working for the district. The internal transformation does not.

The teachers, naturally, are in support of the second option, because there's no guarantee they'll be rehired in the charter school scenario.

Even though it means they'd be required to accept annual pay cuts over the next five years, perhaps as high as 6 percent to 17 percent in the first year alone.

But that's better than losing their jobs, right? It's better than being unemployed. It's better than losing their paychecks and benefits.

And yes, it'd be better for the taxpayers, though I haven't heard anyone actually say that out loud.

The truth of the matter is the teachers -- most of them anyway -- in the city school district have worked as hard, if not harder, than the teachers in every school district in York County. And they'd be within their rights, I guess, if they thought they should be paid as well as all those other teachers, too.

But then reality sets in. When you agree to work for the York City School District with the fewest resources in the county, instead of Central or Dallastown, with the most resources in the county, you've got to accept the financial reality of the situation.

You're going to have to work for less money.

Or else.

We're now at "or else."

The state is talking about shutting down the district as we know it.

No one likes it. I don't like it, either. I think it's a horrible idea. I think it's unfair to the students, the parents and the teachers in the district.

But that's what it's come to. Something's finally got to be done.

So now the teachers are focused on the worst case scenario they've ignored for two decades.

And now they're offering to accept serious reductions in pay and benefits.

Because if they don't ...

I can't help but wonder where'd we'd be right now if the teachers had -- say, 10 years ago -- offered to take a 10 percent cut in pay. Then another 10 percent the next year.

Just to help the district and the taxpayers.

But they didn't.

Because it was always someone else's problem to solve.

Not anymore.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.