District 73.5, teachers settle ‘unique’ contract
Updated: October 19, 2011 3:10AM
In the face of a dire economic climate, Skokie School District 73.5 and its teachers’ union have settled a new three-year contract that offers a unique structure for raises next year to contain costs.
The School Board last week unanimously approved the new pact after the union — McCracken, Middleton, Meyer Education Association (McMEA) — ratified it earlier.
In 2011-12, under terms of the new contract, each teacher at District 73.5 will receive a $1,400 raise, but the increase will not be added to the teachers’ wage schedule.
The result of the one-year payout means that the average teacher will see a 2.1 percent bump in his or her paycheck but not the same kind of raise as usual. Since the increase will not be added to teachers’ base salaries, it will not be compounded in future years, thereby limiting costs to the district.
Also eliminated by a one-year payout are step increases that always come with bumps in the wage scale.
Increasing numbers on a wage scale means that employees who are not at top or bottom of the scale receive hikes in multiple ways — from the increase in the wage scale numbers and from moving along the scale because of longevity and/or further education.
“We are living in economically challenging times, particularly for local governments and taxpayers,” said Board President Jim McNelis. “Both sides recognized that fact and worked well together toward reaching compromises which everyone can live with.”
Union President Debbie Mosher, a fourth-grade Middleton School teacher, said communication was good on both sides — even if contract talks took longer than usual. Both sides came in, she said, recognizing that this wasn’t the same economy as in past negotiations.
“The Teachers’ Association recognizes these challenging times and worked hard to bargain a contract that would meet the needs of everyone,” she said. “We represent a group of hard-working and intelligent teachers.”
In 2012-13, teachers are due a wage scale hike of 2.85 percent. But because the previous year’s compensation increase will not change the base pay nor the salary schedule, the total percentage increase over the previous year’s pay on the scale will amount to only .72 percent.
And for a second year in a row, there will be no step increases in 2012-13.
In the final year of the contract, however, teachers will return to the wage scale for traditional raises. The contract sets average teacher pay raises at 3.41 percent and includes step increases in 2013-14.
The teachers’ wage scale at District 73.5 runs over five lanes based on educational experience and longevity and includes “steps” within those lanes. It covers about 90 full-time teaching positions.
A teacher entering the district with the least experience at step one on the wage scale makes $42,713 while a teacher with the most experience who tops out at 26 years in the district makes $102,508.
But the rough average salary of a District 73.5 teacher is $67,621, the district estimates. Nearly one-third of district teachers are in the last lane of the salary schedule while less than 10 percent are in the first wage scale lane.
Superintendent Kate Donegan said the unorthodox settlement was the result of the willingness of both sides to think creatively. She said there is hope that by the last year of the contract, the economy will have rebounded significantly.
When negotiating the last contract, Donegan said, the School Board never imagined the bottom would fall out of the economy half way through.
The Board two years ago asked the union to reopen the contract to renegotiate salary when the economy began to tank. The union said no while administrators were provided with lower raises.
In 2011-12, administrators and classified staff will receive 3 percent raises while teachers take less in their one-year payout.
The School Board wanted to show respect for its treasured teachers, Donegan said, but also for the community, which is going through such hard economic times.
“I have three neighbors who lost their homes,” said Donegan who lives in Skokie. “We just weren’t in a position to give teachers 5 percent raises even we would have liked to.”
The district and the union negotiated throughout the year — in total 15 times — and wrapped up the contract with the Board vote less than a couple of weeks before school starts.
“Everything was on the table during negotiations,” Mosher said. “We discussed many options and ran many ‘supposals’ by each other.”
Different proposals on health care costs were considered, but in the end, the district will continue to pay 100 percent of the cost of single coverage with teachers picking up a little over $87 per month for family coverage.
A new provision in the contract provides that teachers who choose not to receive health insurance coverage will be paid $500.
District and union officials said that both parties will benefit from the provision because the district will not have to pay for insurance employees do not need and employees have a cash incentive if they have insurance elsewhere.
The new contract also provides a one-time $1,000 payment that is not part of the wage scale to teachers who earn National Board Certification, which is considered a highly valuable teacher certification program.
That can be viewed as the first merit pay provision in the contract, a concept the district wants to pursue further with administrators and classified staff, Donegan said. Extra-curricular stipends will also increase by 1 percent under terms of the new contract.
The new contract also has other minor tweaks but no serious changes other than economics, the parties said.