D97 teachers would get 5%, 4.5%, 4% pay hikes in 3-year deal

?Step increases could raise those figures over 6 percent. Benefits stay at current level. Contract language provides for common start time.

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By DREW CARTER

Certified teachers in Oak Park's elementary schools have reached a tentative agreement with the District 97 Board of Education that would award Oak Park elementary teachers with significant salary increases while maintaining benefits, provide for a common start time for all K-5 schools, and establish No Child Left Behind as the primary district focus during the three-year deal.

A Dist. 97 statement defines salary hikes for the proposed contract as being 5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4 percent over the three years. A "Memorandum of Understanding" would provide for larger raises in the third year "if significant changes occur in funding because of pending legislation."

The district did not respond to a request for information Friday morning; a press conference is scheduled for Monday morning.

The salary increases likely do not include step increases, which for the last certified teachers' contract, inked in August 2003, averaged 1.7 percent. That would mean raises for many teachers would be 6.7 percent, 6.2 percent and 5.7 percent in the next three years.

Step increases are raises teachers receive after they've worked another year at the district, and don't apply to new hires and teachers who've reached the cap for step increases.

Salary for starting teachers would be $35,070 next fall, $36,648 in 2006-07, and $38,114 in 2007-08.

Benefits and insurance would be maintained at current levels, according to the statement.

Teacher union representatives and board members forged the deal in three consecutive full-day bargaining sessions in February, a departure from the usual process of weekly meetings spread over months.

The current contract expires this summer.

The tentative agreement would also provide for a single start time at all eight K-5 schools. The proposal had been brought up in recent years, favored by teachers because it would help ease coordination on Wednesday after-school meetings. The board did not approve the idea, which would have saved an estimated $15,000 in busing costs this year, because of safety concerns, then dropped it after the district learned that the village doubted it could provide enough crossing guards to serve all eight schools.

The contract would also define the district's primary focus for the duration of the contract as No Child Left Behind, with "Diversity/Eliminating the Achievement Gap," "Academic Challenge," and special education being the next most-important issues.

The board expects to vote on the contract at its March 23 meeting.

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