By Megan Dooley
Public elementary school kids in River Forest will be in class an extra half-hour a day starting this fall under terms of a new contract between the District 90 school board and teachers.
"That's one of the biggest changes," said James Weiss, vice president of the school board. "From the administration's perspective, I think there was the thought that they could do more during the day. This is going to have an impact on every district family."
The school day for middle school students will be lengthened by just five minutes a day.
Salaries will increase in each of the three years of the contract. The district will slightly increase its contributions to health care coverage for families as it also restructures the way health care is paid for more recent hires to bring the structure into alignment with other employees.
Pam Moriarty, co-president of the River Forest Education Association (RFEA) and a second grade teacher at Lincoln School, said the contract was ratified by a majority of teachers and that teachers are happy to have a three-year contract in place.
The District 90 board of education signed off on the contract last week bringing to a close negotiations which began last fall. The current teacher contract is set to expire this spring.
Weiss said the board was happy with the results. "I will say we went into the negotiations with certain parameters and that the contract that we ended up with fell within those parameters," he said.
For school year 2011-12, the pay increase for teachers is set at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 1.5 percent. The CPI will also be the guide in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, although there will be a minimum of a 2.7 percent increase and a maximum of 5 percent.
The employer health care contribution matrix has changed slightly in this contract. Employees hired prior to July 1, 2004 are still entitled to 100 percent employee coverage for individual plans. But district out-of-pocket contributions for family plans have increased slightly.
For family plans, the district will pay 100 percent of the employee coverage plus an additional $260 per month in the first contract year, $270 in the second contract year, and $280 in the third contract year toward family coverage.
Teachers hired on or after July 1, 2004 are entitled to lesser contributions for health care plans. For individual coverage, the district will contribute 90 percent of the total cost. For family coverage, the district will cover an amount equal to 90 percent of the individual plan plus $225 per month in the first year of the contract, $230 in the second year, and $240 in the third year.
"That is completely different from the way we used to do it," said Anthony Cozzi, director of finances and facilities for Dist. 90. The post-July 1, 2004 hires were formerly given a set dollar amount towards individual coverage and a set dollar amount towards family coverage. "And now we are kind of putting it in line with, and making it look like the same structures as the [pre-July 1, 2004 hires], but at a lesser rate," he said.
Cozzi said it's difficult to put an exact number on the amount that the district will have to contribute for the health insurance plans. "Since we don't know what the single coverage will be, we don't really know how much more the employers will be paying," he said.
Another change in the new contract involves extended school hours and a longer school year. At Willard and Lincoln Elementary schools, the school day will begin at 8:20 a.m. with dismissal at 3:10 p.m. The current hours are 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. At Roosevelt Middle School, the day will now begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. The current hours are 8:29 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Weiss said there are bound to be people who object to earlier start-times, but he said the times are not unusual among other districts, and in fact, many schools start even earlier
The 10 minute window between dismissal times at the elementary and middle schools was also designed for the convenience of parents with children in different schools. "[We] wanted the stop times to be staggered so that parents have time to be in both places to pick up kids."
The new contract also adds three staff development days to each school year.
Another significant change to the contract from previous years involves additional pay for teachers who add post-graduate hours. Year one of the contract will remain the same as it has been in previous years. Teachers will get $2,000 added to their base salary for an educational lane increase. For instance, a teacher would get a lane increase for completing a Bachelor's degree plus 15 credits, and another for a Bachelor's degree plus 30 credits. A Master's degree warrants an additional $400 bonus, making the total lane increase $2,400.
The change comes in the second year of the contract. Then teachers will get a base salary increase of $2,500 for each lane increase, and an extra $500 for achieving a Master's.
"That was something that we thought would have a positive effect on our district," Weiss said, adding that Dist. 90 prides itself on the accomplishments and educational pursuits of their teachers.
RFEA co-president Moriarty called the increased employer health plan contributions "very positive," and also praised the inclusion of new provisions for additional pay for receiving a Master's degree plus 60 credit hours. Under the previous contract, payments for additional graduate hours ended with a Master's plus 40 credit hours.
"In this day and age we're very happy with this contract. We think it's a good contract and we look forward to the next three years," Moriarty said.
"We're extremely pleased with the terms of the new contract," said Juliann Geldner, board president. "Teachers are our number one asset and this contract improves the educational climate of the schools by providing them with more time for preparation and instruction. Moreover, it does so in a way that recognizes our fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of River Forest. It's really a win-win situation."