By Terry Dean
With teacher contract talks set to begin sometime next spring, District 97 faculty, the board and the administration are looking seriously at creating a new salary structure to compensate teachers.
The district conducted a compensation study this spring and presented its findings May 28 during the D97 Board of Education meeting.
District officials stress that the study only looked at compensation models in other school districts that could help form the basis of talks next year. They stress that no new compensation model has been settled on at this point. The study team included D97 Supt. Albert Roberts, school board member Peter Traczyk, and members of the Oak Park Teachers Association, including the president, teacher Tom Kanwischer.
The study group did some preliminary research on compensation policies and models from schools districts in other states. As far as specific salary scales, the group looked at three school districts in Illinois that have implemented new salary structures in the past few years or made significant tweaks to their existing salary scale.
Schaumburg District 54, Evanston District 65 and Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 were the local schools chosen.
D95, for example, revamped its salary structure in 2010. Many school districts, including D97, have "steps" and "lanes." Steps award pay increases based on time spent teaching in a district, and lanes award increases based on additional academic degrees.
D95 got rid of steps but kept the lanes, which reward a teacher's advancement in education. But a "goal-based' compensation scale was also created. Teachers, for instance, can receive $1,000 bonuses every two years if they successfully complete goal-based evaluations.
Schaumburg has a model similar to D97's, except that yearly increases are based on student growth, both district-wide and by building. D65 also rewards every staff member, from teachers to custodians, when specific yearly targets are reached. Schaumburg, the study group noted, has a 65 percent success rate in hitting its yearly targets.
In Evanston, the district has a pretty standard salary scale built on a "tier model," which looks similar to steps. But that model is built around professional development credits and not just on longevity.
At last week's D97 meeting, the study group and board discussed its findings. The general view was that some of those models could be used in D97. Some general themes emerged from the district's study. Buy-in and active participation from faculty on any changes made in D97 is essential. Other stakeholders also have to be brought into talks and actively engaged.
Another major theme was having a compensation model that is easily understood and explainable to the general public. Traczyk noted that during D97's referendum campaign, many voters simply had no idea how teachers are compensated and why.
A compensation model also has to be sustainable for the future, the study group found.
Roberts added that D97 needs to make sure it's rewarding the right things.
"We can have the greatest compensation system in the world, but if we're not clear about where we want improvement so that we're better tomorrow, we can achieve our goal and still fall short of what we want," he said.
Roberts noted that there also needs to be multiple measures built into any model. Currently, too much emphasis is on test scores in education, particularly standardized testing, he said.
There also needs to be emphasis on cooperation and not competition among faculty in any model, Roberts added.
"If we're going to do this, we want our teachers working together to help each other become better, not that one is better than the one next door," he said.
Other themes from the story included an emphasis on rewarding teacher expertise and improvement, as well as appreciation for the work already being done in the classroom.