A few significant changes are headed to Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 this fall. 

The school day will be slightly longer for elementary school students, there will be two fewer institute days, new teachers will have the opportunity to access salary increases sooner in their careers, and all teachers will have more opportunities to serve in leadership roles, among a range of other changes. 

The changes are the result of the new teacher four-year contract that was ratified by the Oak Park Teachers Association on May 30 and unanimously approved by the District 97 school board on June 1. Around 83 percent of the OPTA members, which represents roughly 500 teachers in the district, voted in favor of ratification. 

During an interview on June 4, D97 board President Holly Spurlock said that the negotiations stretched for five months, with representatives from both sides meeting weekly to reach some consensus. 

“This was my first time negotiating,” Spurlock said. “We got to know the teachers and we formed one team with a unified goal of focusing on the vision, which is something that [D97 Superintendent Carol Kelley] has brought — really centered on the vision, centered on all learners, centered on developing the staff and centered on the community. I thought we were really aligned from day one.” 

A joint statement released this week by the school board and the teachers union stated that the roughly “81 hours of discussion at the bargaining table” helped “strengthen the partnership and solidified the mutual respect that exists between our groups.” 

The new contract, which runs through the 2021-22 school year, builds on the teacher contract approved in 2015. At the time, both union and district officials described the contract as “transformative,” namely for its radically different salary schedule. 

The district’s salary schedule once included 25 step raises and eight salary lanes that boost teacher salary increases beyond base-pay raises and make salaries difficult to budget for.

The contract ratified in 2015 introduced a salary schedule that eliminated step raises and rewarded teachers for attaining advanced degrees and achievements such as being recognized as a National Board Certified teacher.

Teachers who realize the national certification, which is a 2-year process, will be eligible for an additional $10,000 stipend that will be added to their base annual salary. The new salary adds one more stipend tier for teachers who pursue leadership roles, such as department chair. 

In the previous contract, said board Vice President Jim O’Connor, there were three stipend-related tiers available for teachers pursuing leadership roles — the highest being $4,500. The new contract features a fourth leadership level with a $6,500 maximum stipend.

The new contract also includes the addition of two new teaching endorsements, one of which D97 officials said will help the district’s growing population of students who come from households where English is not the first, or only, language spoken. 

The new contract pegs automatic annual salary increases to changes in the Consumer Price Index, with the minimum increase set at 1.5 percent and the maximum increase set at 3.5 percent. On average, teacher compensation increases under the new contract by 2.5 percent. 

Like the previous contract, the new contract maintains starting salaries that are higher than average and allows for the elimination of salary increases for any teacher “who receives a summative evaluation of unsatisfactory or needs improvement,” according to the district statement. 

A key instructional feature in the new contract is a slightly longer school day for elementary buildings by five minutes—from 2:55 p.m. to 3 p.m. — on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and by 35 minutes on Wednesday — from 1:55 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. That amounts to around an hour of additional instructional time per week. In addition, the district will replace two institute days with two more regular school days

Along with longer school days for elementary building teachers, the new contract allots more collective planning time, the establishment of a teacher co-chair position on the district’s Professional Learning Committee and the expansion of membership on that committee to include special area teachers, among other changes. 

The new contract introduces paid parental leave for teachers experiencing births or adoptions — something that did not exist before. Now, teachers, rather than the board, will be responsible for funding and managing the sick leave bank. The change is projected to save the district around $200,000 a year. 

As with the previous contract, the new contract calls for phasing out a provision that allowed retiring teachers four consecutive years of 6-percent base salary increases by 2020. The new contract will also maintain a 403(b) retirement plan that was created with the previous contract. 

But unlike the old contract, the new contract has features that will “assist teachers with long-term planning and retirement, especially given the instability and uncertainty of the state’s pension system,” according to the district’s statement. 

Among those features, teachers with at least 10 years of service to the district who have declared retirement will be eligible for $3,000 a year in non-matching contributions in each of the last four years before they retire. 

To read the district’s full summary of the new contract, along with the joint statement released by the D97 school board and the OPTA, visit www.op97.org. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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