By Terry Dean
In preparation for upcoming faculty contract negotiations in 2014, District 97 over the next two months will conduct a study on how best to compensate teachers.
The District 97 Board of Education and Oak Park Teachers Association will join the administration in this effort.
The joint study is being undertaken "in an effort to respond to the sweeping changes taking place at the state and national levels, and address the myriad questions about the topic that have been raised by the community since the [April 2011] referendum," according to a statement from the district last week.
The study is essentially a fact-finding effort, looking at how other school districts compensate teachers, explained D97 board member Peter Traczyk. The seven-person study group comprises Traczyk, Supt. Albert Roberts, the district's human resources director and members of the OPTA. The study will not result in any specific recommendations concerning the next teacher contract, Traczyk stressed.
"It's not negotiations. We're not coming up with a specific recommendation to the board or for the eventual negotiations next year," he said. "It's more informing. Will we use this information next year? Of course we will. But the intent of this is not to arrive at some kind of goal or outline. It's really just saving us from doing the legwork next year. "
The current faculty contract was approved in 2008. It lasted five years, the longest ever in the district. It was originally set to expire this past summer, but in 2011 was extended for an additional school year, part of an agreement with faculty after they accepted a one-year pay freeze that year.
"Steps" and "lanes," the two primary compensation mechanisms for school teachers, have long been used by D97 and other districts. But education reformers at the state and national levels have advocated changing that salary schedule, either revamping or doing away with them altogether.
Steps award teachers a salary increase for each additional year they work. Lanes offer additional compensation for any advanced degrees or credits a teacher attains.
"When we went through the referendum, we got a lot of questions from the public around compensation and how does it work in the school district, and what our steps were," Traczyk said. "And then there's kind of the broader background about the national and state level changes, and so as the board was looking at some of those questions, we thought, let's do a study on this and see if we can get some kind of background factual information, and then look at research on what other districts might be doing."
The study group, which includes the union representative from the Illinois Education Association, has met twice so far. Traczyk said there are districts that do use steps and lanes but in creative ways.
"There is actually a fair amount of social science on this in terms of academics and compensation research. So we're looking at research. And we're looking around Illinois and at some interesting school districts. We're just going to keep searching around for districts that are doing anything other than traditional steps and lanes, or some variation of it," Traczyk said.
At the end of the two months, the group will present a report to the board that will also be made public and posted on the district's website. The group, Traczyk added, is looking only at teacher compensation models. Teachers, he noted, make up the bulk of the district's employees. Currently, 469 teachers are employed in D97, and of those 317 are tenured.
Looking into compensation was actually a proposed D97 board goal two years ago and is being implemented this year, Traczyk said. The study group will meet a few more times before issuing its report, Traczyk said.