Oak Park teachers union accepts one-year pay freeze

Savings to District 97 estimated at more than $1 million


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Click here to read statements from the District 97 teacher's union president and the District 97 superintendent.

The Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA) last week agreed to accept a one-year pay freeze totaling more than $1 million at the request of Elementary School District 97's administration.

The request was made by Supt. Albert Roberts in December to help address the district's budget crisis. The teachers group announced at last Tuesday's school board meeting that it will accept the freeze.

The 439-member union voted on the pay freeze, effective for the 2011-12 school year, with 72 percent voting in favor while 28 percent voted against.

"The OPTA members decided to accept a freeze to avoid cuts to teaching positions and programs that would have devastating impact on students, the district and the Oak Park community," said OPTA president Sue Tresselt at last night's meeting. "Personally, I am completely compassionate toward, and understanding of, the fact that the current climate within the OPTA, within the state of Illinois and within education is very tense, uncomfortable and filled with uncertainty."

She added that OPTA members hope the wage freeze will allow the administration and board to scale back the $5.7 million in reductions to such programs as CAST, BRAVO and after-school sports, which the board approved this month as a back-up plan should the April 5 referendum fail. Tresselt estimates that about 25 percent of the proposed reduction amount could be saved by the union's move.

On Jan. 18, the board approved a $48 million rate-hike referendum and on Jan. 11, they approved the $5.7 million in reductions.

Roberts said the union's acceptance of a freeze "highlights their strong commitment to our community and to the long-term success of our students." The current 5-year teacher's contract — now it its third year— would have to be reopened and amended in order for the freeze to go through. The actual language in the contract, however, would not change, but a memorandum concerning the freeze, drafted by the district and signed by Tresselt and the school board president, would be added to the contract.

President Peter Traczyk spoke on behalf of the seven-member board in thanking the OPTA for their decision.

"We absolutely welcome and thank the OPTA in partnering with us as we work toward controlling expenses and asking voters to help us fund education in Dist. 97," he said, acknowledging that a pay freeze was never considered a sure thing.

"This is a big concession for a bargaining unit, and for our teachers it's going to be a double hit. They're not only going to get a freeze in wages, but if our referendum is approved, will see their taxes go up," Traczyk said. "They and their families have been affected by this recession as well. Our teachers are not wildly overpaid. So it's a tough question. Was it a given that we would get to this point? No. Kudos to them for taking this on."

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

Statements on salary freeze

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Interested Parent  

Posted: February 1st, 2011 1:37 PM

@Steve - Interesting that you use LaGrange 105 as the comparison district for admin size. They are less than 1/4 the size of D97 and have 5 admin. D97 has almost 5600 students with about 10 district admin. Also, 3 schools out of 5 in LaGrange 105 didn't make AYP or have scores close to the state targets. Best in the state? And having data means you work for the District? Check out iirc.niu.edu. It's open to anyone to view data on all districts. By the way, Smartboards are in RF, not D97 yet.

Steve from OP  

Posted: February 1st, 2011 12:01 PM

@Cogs. I know you were speaking to Rich$. But I am a life long dem. I am very progressive minded. But the more I hear about D97. Their current funding levels, and their current performance. The more I worrry about the District as a whole. My problem is not with Teacher pay. Instead it is with initiative after initiative over the past 10 years, that go no where and cost a lot of money. The newest is smart boards in Kindergarten. Just stupid. Yet the D97 doesn't even keep the fields nice

Steve from OP  

Posted: February 1st, 2011 11:57 AM

@Interested Parent - What are you talking about. The admin isn't top heavy. What other Admin office has there own building. And who has the size staff they have. From La Grange Sping Ave/Gurrey they best district in the state. They have 5 people that work in the administration office for the district. Also the offices are in Gurrey. Interested Parent I think you work for the Administration offices. And no there have been NO STAFFF reductions at the Admin Office level for the District.


Posted: January 31st, 2011 11:05 PM

Hey Rich$! Too much Fox News in your diet.

Interested Parent  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 6:26 PM

If you look at the list of reductions, there is a cut for Central Office admin. and clerical support. Where do you get your comparison admin numbers? D97 isn't top heavy when compared to other districts of similar size, student demographics, and offerings.

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 2:23 PM

What kills me is they threaten to cut the art and foreign language programs at the elementary schools if the tax increase doesn't go through. They don't propose 1 administrator being cut. Not even one. OP D97 has an extremely high number of administrators. That is why they need their own building to house them. I don't have any comparable figures, but they seem way off when looking at comparable communities. Also on 4/5 vote out the school board. They are backing these changes...

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 2:20 PM

I do believe in investing in the schools, but the D97 leadership team is terrible and is doing nothing to fix and better the schools. Say no to the referendum to raise your taxes, so that the school super will have to relook at this and find a better balance. The cuts they are proposing are red harings to make us vote yes. If a no vote is reached, they will be forced to look at the Administrator Offices on Home and Madison for the cost cutting savings.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 30th, 2011 1:44 PM

Agree w/Adele, agree with Rich$ - Liz R. where have u been - housing values have plummeted and haven't reached bottom, the schools are average and more money doesn't make a school better - young medium income or below families can't afford to live here because of the taxes. So many articles about various educational administrative excess(see Sunday Trib - front page) and know that we can't just blindly support something for fear of housing values as well as the "its' for the children" cry.

Oak Park Rez  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 9:24 AM

Hooray Adele from Oak Park! Well conveyed! I'd also like to take a closer look at all the same last names on the d97 roster. Something is amiss...

Adele from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 8:46 AM

Love it here, but Oak Park is gluttonous & obese. It consumes dessert after every meal. No sense of "tightening the purse strings" during this recession. No moderation. My Prprty txs went up 65% in 8 yrs. Time 2 say NO to dessert. No dessert today kids, times r-tuff! What's 4 dinner tonite? Ramen noodles! No to 98. No to HS. No to brick Streets. N.O.

Adele from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 8:33 AM

@Liz R. = Sorry, the "vote yes or housing values drop" argument has been tirelessly employed. Values already are down. We have a village govt that wants to spend millions on brick streets during the great recession! De-Nile! It's time to apply the breaks. No, don't cut all extras, but live w/in our means. No MC office, Less Admin, Raise Insur rates, Modify Bravo, No Spanish. Plus, how about HS? They can take a pay cut too - they are WAAAY 2 FAT!!!

Liz R. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 8:05 PM

If you don't vote for the referendum, your house values will go down, down, down. Why? People move to Oak Park because of the excellence of the schools. If there is no art education, for example, the schools will not be excellent. I want to keep my house values up AND I want my granddaughter, in 2nd grade, to get an excellent education.

Rich$ from Oak Park   

Posted: January 28th, 2011 7:31 PM

I vote NO! I'm glad to see that all my dear democrat friendsin Oak Park have finally realized that our government, both local and federal - needs to be contained. Stop the spending train and slow the government takeover our nation. Vote OBAMA and all his socialist friends out of office

mom of three  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 7:30 PM

The real problem here is that he different taxing bodies must work together. i would pay more for the school, but than less schould be paid to the park district for unnecessary improvements or the village, township etc. for unnecessary sevices. Real thought must be undertaken to eliminate programs that are unnecessary and services that are just unaffordable, park district does not need the $$ to redo parks, great to do during better economic times.

OP Rez  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 7:01 PM

I vote an emphatic NO to the tax increase. Is there an organized group that I can join to squash this utterly absurd increase?

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 2:36 PM

The bottom line is if they were doing well, I would be inclined to spend more, but D97 is NOT doing well. They rank very poorly in Cook county and have mismanaged funds. Now they want to go on a spending spree for "Smart Boards" in kindergarten classes. Are you for real. I encourage all Oak Parker's to vote NO and demand more out of their tax dollars. We pay the MOST in cook county and get very poor services.

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 2:34 PM

As for cuts at the administrative offices on Home and Madison. There haven't been any real cuts. Yes they are cutting back on basic purchases, but no people were let go. Why do they need a dedicated district building. Most schools put the district office in a school. Why do they employ so many people in the D97 office on Home and Madison. La Grange elementary gets by with less than 10 district officials for its elementary schools. And La Grange ranks extremely well for the k-8 schools.

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 2:30 PM

@Confused. My fact come from the Village Assessor Ali Elsafari. It is true that OP taxes as a whole have gone up 83% since 2001 and real inflation has been 21%. Leaving you will a real tax increase in OP of 62%. Also the schools represent almost half that tax bill. The taz rate in OP is higher than any other community in Coook County. Yet OP schools rank poorly. The line about the schools grounds, was they can't even maintain the ball fields. I and most of my neighboors will vote NO!!!


Posted: January 28th, 2011 9:53 AM

This is a ruse, done only to help pass the referendum. Believe me, they will be back at contract time demanding payback. Make them pay for their own health insurance like the rest of us who pay their salary do! Taxes here are out of control.

S. living in OP  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 2:36 AM

Many of the teachers and administrators who tookthese pay freezes are also Oak Park residents who will feel this same tax increase as everyone else. And, while knowing their taxes would go up they still voted to take this increase. I also know not all healthcare in the district is fully funded. The district contributes an amount (possibly equivalent to an HMO single rate?) and anything over that the employee pays.


Posted: January 27th, 2011 3:45 PM

It's interesting that those same teachers who have been usually derided as "not skilled enough to hold a real job so they teach" are now derided because they still have a job, and they aren't sacrificing enough to help out the people who questioned their abilities in the first place. It's a shame that anyone is out of work, but don't blame those still with jobs. And why the constant negativity toward admin.? Districts have far fewer supervisors than similar sized large businesses.


Posted: January 27th, 2011 3:31 PM

Yes, my mistake. It was Steve's comment.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 3:10 PM

@ confused re: percentages - sorry I was referencing Steve's post below - I stated nothing about grounds... did you mean @Steve?

Not CM  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 10:45 AM

My salary went down 30% in 2009 then to zero until a few months ago. Now almost all my income goes toward paying a personal health insurance policy for me and my family, utilities and food. I tap my savings to pay for taxes and everything else. I don't feel bad for asking the teachers and adminstration to share the pain. Calling a one year freeze a sacrifice is insulting and out of touch.

Magda from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 10:34 AM

My pay decreased by a third, my 401(k) stopped, and I spend hundreds a month on health insurance. And my taxes go to what kind of "shared" sacrifice ... ?


Posted: January 27th, 2011 10:08 AM

@W - I admit I'm confused by your 62% tax increase. You say the VILLAGE raised its spending by 62%. The high school and Park District also increased taxes on the bill during that time. Then you jump to D97 not keeping grounds maintained. Can you clarify how these all tie together? Also, could you show the tax rates in other comparable districts in Cook county so that we have some comparison? Thanks.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 8:34 AM

62% tax increase since 2001 proposed 2011 referendum = unabondoned spending in my books

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 8:31 AM

@Steve - Thank you for your facts - they are appreciated and why the referendum will get a no vote from me.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 8:25 AM

@J - they are still asking for more money - right? Taxes will still go up - right? I always wonder at the people who say that they have "saved" money after they have spent money - how can you have saved when you spend? Yes, schools cost but more needs to be cut - can't just keep sticking out the hand asking for more.

Barbara from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 8:05 PM

Thank you, District 97 teachers! As a parent of a 1st grader and a soon-to-be kindergartener, I have spent a fair amount of time interacting with and observing the teachers at my daughter's school. They are a dedicated and committed group who don't shy away from giving of their time before and after school and on the weekends to make sure that Oak Park's students have the support they need to learn. I commend them for taking this step. District 97 definitely has my yes vote on April 5th.

Steve from OP  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 4:46 PM

D97 should have been dealing with this problem all along. Not just leaving it for the last minute. Ask the township assesor Ali Elsafari. The village has raised its spending 83% since 2001, yet inflation has only gone up 21%. This mean a real tax increase of 62% since 2001, that property owners are left to cover. The school can't even keep their grounds maintained. Yet we have the highest tax rate by far in cook county and the schools aren't that good.

Steve From OP  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 4:38 PM

@LPaul - "As to how our spending per student compares to other areas, let's look at the data -- as well as the underlying profile of the student population" this comment sounds racist. I have often seen D97 blame their poor performance on the Black students. This is rediculous. Look at Evanston schools or Riverside Brookfield. Their tax rates are much lower (almost 40%) lower and their schools outperform OP significantly. Bottom line - corrupt entrenched power has lead D97 to be bankrupt.

Steve from OP from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 4:34 PM

@CMBankes - I did take a significant pay cut (20%) as a result of the market downturn. Try to ask that type of cut of the D97 staff, instead of just foregoing 1 year of pay hikes.

Kpost from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 3:40 PM

I can't believe he actually said they are not "wildly overpaid". Can we put healthcare spending on the table? It's called Employer sponsored, not Employer Fully Funded. These costs are wildly escalating and the cost to OPTA for self is Zero. They need to allocate an employee share as averaged in the private sector. Check out the districts numbers for premiums. Can we have 2 basic pie charts one 2005 spending and one 2011 with a slice for healthcare? That's were your refendum $ will go

J from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 3:21 PM

@W. - "belt tighten like the rest of the world. You can't keep spending what you don't have- it is a poor fiscal equation that never works." That is exactly why they ARE having a referendum. D97 IS making $5.7M in cuts for next year so they don't spend what they don't have. But they believe these cuts will have a big impact on their ability to meet their mission of education. So we the taxpayers get to choose.

J from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 3:16 PM

@chet21 - The Board can always choose to levy less in any given year, but for the referendum, the request, as worded on the ballot, it set at this point. Yes, the entire Admin staff already took freezes for next year.

OP tax payer/D97 parent from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 2:44 PM

I had the same question as others. Does "freeze" mean teachers won't get the automatic increase for another year of service; does it mean that anyone due the automatic bump in salary from receiving a required masters (regardless of program quality or performance) is deferred a year; will it be reflected in current and future pension calculations? It's a nice sound bite. We know, if the referendum passes, we'll have less net after tax. We don't know what the teachers impact actually is.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 2:23 PM

Thanks for the info regarding my "step" question. Next? IF the ref passes, can the board THEN reduce the levy amt to reflect pay freeze? Isn't the ballot question simply a maximum levy? Also, what about the administration, etc? Freezes there, too? Supt included? I still question la-la land of elem Spanish and Multi-Cult dept, but I like the direction that is being taken. Perhaps after the ref fails - THEN my other suggestions will be considered?

CMBankes from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 1:44 PM

@ Steve - Wondering if YOU are willing to take a one year pay freeze.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 1:14 PM

Still think it is laughable that anyone would propose a referendum at all in this economy. Belt tightening like the rest of the world instead of the unabandoned spending that got us here in the first place. You can't keep spending what you don't have - it is a poor fiscal equation that never works.

LPaul from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:57 PM

I am pleased to see the OPTA stepping up with some concessions. I was a supporter of the referendum before, but now I know I'm in it with the teachers. As to how our spending per student compares to other areas, let's look at the data -- as well as the underlying profile of the student population. It may have been something published by WJ previously?

J from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:44 PM

@OPRF - "...the steps need freezing as well. The fact that this is not be reported upon is troubling - meaning this is not happening" It actually doesn't mean that at all, it just means there are some details missing from the story.

Jon Marcus  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:39 PM

@Steve, agree that adminstrative salaries and overhead should be cut, but disagree that a freeze is "nothing." @Chet, yes this does include the step.

J from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:36 PM

@chet21 - First, the referendum can't be resized at this point. It has nothing to do with the Board but is a deadline mandated by the county for geting the referendum request on the ballot. Secondly, the freeze does include the steps.


Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:31 PM

Should be a 10% reduction. Also agree with chet - the step needs freezing, reduction as well. The fact that this is not be reported upon is troubling - meaning this is not happending.


Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:29 PM

Wonderful, does this mean the proposed referendum will only increase my taxes for one year? LMAO - This is another union tactic out of their playbook - don't fall for it. They are also admitting that in their first proposal they were willing to increase taxes (an effective pay cut to us all) while they smiled and got a raise. Come back when you propose pay cuts like the rest of private sectior has endured.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:28 PM

I have been quite critical of the D97 ref, but must state, with caveats, that I do not underestimate this action by OPTA. Questions? Will the ref request be reduced to reflect this change? Does this "freeze" include the "step" increase? If the board does not publicly state that they will reduce the tax increase to reflect this "freeze" and the "freeze" does not include an actual INCREASE due to the step-table "increase" then this is a joke and the ref should be defeated.

Steve from OP from Oak Park  

Posted: January 26th, 2011 12:07 PM

A 1 year freeze. Really that is nothing. This schoold district charges so much more in taxes than the North Shore or other comparable cook county communities. And yet the district 97 schools rank poorly next to other Cook county schools in comparable suburbs. They need to cut administrators and administrator pay and benefits package. Yes OP schools pay too much to their staff and deliver mediocre or poor results. A 1 year freeze is a joke.

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