District 97 asks Oak Park teachers to take salary freeze

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Following through on its plan to ask members of its staff to consider accepting salary freezes as one way to address its structural deficit, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has formally made that request to the Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA).

District 97 would not confirm that such a request had been made via a letter from the superintendent or through discussions, but sources close to the school district said a pay freeze request has been made and the district is awaiting a response from the union.

Chris Jasculca, the district's communications director, provided Wednesday Journal with a statement from the superintendent.

"During these challenging economic times, we are working with all of our employees to identify ways we can save money without impacting the quality of the education we provide to the children of this community," Supt. Albert Robert said in the statement.

The statement went on to say that discussions with the district's bargaining units regarding agreements are confidential. A pay freeze for teachers would require the current contract—a five year deal signed in 2008 and ending in 2013—to be reopened and amended.

Wednesday Journal on Tuesday was also given a written statement from the district, provided by OPTA President Sue Tresselt: "All discussions related to our bargaining agreement with the district are confidential. However, we are committed to working with the board and administration to successfully navigate these challenging economic times, while maintaining the academic excellence that is the hallmark of our schools."

A salary freeze for administrators—at the central office and building principals and assistant principals—has already been proposed. In order to address its deficit, the district will run a $75 million working cash referendum—an increase of $61 for every $1,000 paid in property taxes—in next April's election. The school board will formally vote on that option in January, as well as proposed reductions that will occur for the 2011-2012 school year if the referendum does not pass. The district is looking to plug a roughly $6 million deficit to avoid cash reserves running out by 2014.

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Reader Comments

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chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 23rd, 2010 3:47 PM

Jassen, your invitation for the bd mtg makes sense, but I know better. I've been involved in many situations like this and my suggestions will ONLY be listened to once the ref fails. The $75M is primarily for one thing: increased wages and benefits. One bd member negotiated a D97 contract which forced my child to a mixed 4/5 class. Why? So he'd have more $$$ for the new contract. He did this at multiple schools used $$ for his raise! The 4/5 was a disaster! Freeze? They'll give it back later.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 6:12 PM

Accuracy Please - I was referring to the D97 tax rate for the tax year 2009. Your cited IIRC data base is for the tax year 2007, when the D97 tax rate for Oak Park was 3.1 (higher than 7 of your 10 referenced Bright Red Apple school districts). For the sake of comparison, if one adds the proposed D97 referendum increase ($61 per $1,000 property taxes) to this same tax year 2007 for D97, the tax rate would increase to 3.7, which is higher than all 10 of your Bright Red Apple school districts.

Enuf is Enuf  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 5:47 PM

Jassen - yes, difficult to discuss TIFs in this forum, but needs to be addressed in the Jan. 11 D97 meeting. So far, D97 has only clouded the issue by claiming D97 property tax revenue that is diverted to TIF districts qualifies them for additional General State Aid. This appears to be gaming the system for additional state funds that should be allocated to lower income school districts, not D97. Also, the problem w/ peer-group comparison is that all boats float higher when the same tide rises

Accuracy Please  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 2:43 PM

@Enuf: Not sure which districts you are comparing for tax rates. D97's rate of 2.655 is higher than Lake Forest 1.0 and Hinsdale 2.0, equal to Berwyn South 2.6, and lower than Mt. Prospect 2.7, Glen Ellyn 2.8, River Forest 2.9, Lombard 2.9, Berwyn North 3.3, Arlington Hts. 3.3, and Elmhurst 3.5. All but the Berwyn schools are Bright Red Apple winners, like D97. What peer schools were you referring to that are significantly lower than D97's rate? (These 2010 figures from iirc.niu.edu.)

Jassen from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 2:35 PM

@chet21 - As someone who follows D97 finances pretty closely and attends most of the Board of Ed meetings, I don't think I have "fallen" for anything, I think we just disagree on the financial situation. Either way, thanks for your input. Hopefully you will come and share your opinions with the Board on January 11th.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 12:08 PM

"I for one don't consider Art, Bravo, foreign language and the gifted programs fluff" - include athletics and we're in agreement - although I do still question the new K-5 Spanish program. Anyway, Jassen, it appears as if you've fallen for the typical scare tactics of "if this ref loses my children are doomed!" from school boards. Also vote yes for $150M? $300M? School districts in IL and country are facing same situation - less money for status quo. D97 will lose, adjust, and life will go on.

Jassen from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 11:34 AM

@Enuf is Enuf - Tough to have a meaningful discussion of a TIF in 500 char or less. As for teachers salaries, while I know many people want to look there for a solution; 1) it isn't a long-term fix 2) We are already just below the 50% in compensation compared to other peer school districts. To be clear, I am considering peer districts to be the other 82 districts that are also Bright Red Apple winners in Illinois.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 11:05 AM

Jassen ... The typical $400,000 house in OP now pays about $10,000 in annual property taxes, with about 1/3 ($3,300) going to D97. The D97 2.655 tax rate is already significantly higher than peer community school districts. Now D97 wants to add another $600 per year with the referendum. I would rather D97 focus their efforts towards terminating the TIFs and renegotiating teacher contracts, then increasing property tax rates, which only makes OP less affordable to families with school-age kids.

Jassen from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 11:03 AM

@chet21 - You obviously have some strong opinions on D97 finances. I hope you come to share them at the January 11th Board meeting at Brooks. As for the "fluff" comment. I for one don't consider Art, Bravo, foreign language and the gifted programs fluff but we will just have to agree to disagree on that one I guess.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 10:50 AM

Jassen, like OPRF, which has an incredible $80M surplus (due to their recent "large" ref), D97 is requesting a sum, $75M, which will leave them in a similar position. And they're following the same playbook - vote for this or "the children" will struggle. My Irving/Julian/OPRF kids are 16 & 19 and are thriving - even tho they were at Irving during the "bad years." OPRF won during boom times. D97 will lose and then they'll adjust and win the next time - simple. $75M is ridiculous.Hppy Holidays!

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 10:35 AM

1.) $75M is excessive. D97 powerpoint shows, worst case, deficit of $17M/$25M in 2016. 2.) D97 in surplus for 2 more years. Ref loss today is acceptable. 3.) "Worst case" figures reflect no change to D97 compensation. In conclusion, once OP voters defeat ref, D97/Staff can address "fluff" programs (i.e., M-C Dept, SIT) and 2008 step-table for faculty. THEN a realistic figure for ref can be presented to community. $75M thru 2018 is almost $10M per year - far too excessive! In this economy?!?

Jassen from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 9:43 AM

@chet21 - "Why is this true?" Because if the referendum doesn't pass, there will be $5.7M in cuts that will eliminate crucial programs across the district. Conversly, a successful ref allows D97 to make significant steps forward in education. You obviously have some ideas that you think would balance the budget without making cuts that impact students. Thats great. But my comments relate to what is on the table right now.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 6:41 PM

"Saying no to the referendum just holds the kids accountable." Why is this true? Seriously? If the teachers returned to the 2008 step table and other minor cuts were made, how does this affect students? It seems that D97/teachers/ref supporters are unaware of the 20% un/underemployment!?! Why was $75M chosen? I'm guessing that it simply equaled the amount levied for the school bonds. This ref is for status quo wage and benefit increases A LOT more. Vote No - Start Over - Ask For MUCH Less.

Jassen from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 1:20 PM

@Enuf is Enuf - "time for D97 board to be held accountable...Say No to the referendum." If your issue is with the Board, you have a chance to hold them accountable every 2 years when you vote. Saying no to the referendum just holds the kids accountable.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 11:28 AM

Current and past D97 boards have not fulfilled their fiduciary duty as financial stewards. They have acquiesced to the village re. TIFs (1983) and TIF extensions (2003), acquiesced to the Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA) re. teacher contracts (2008), and acquiesced to the village (2010) by agreeing to TIF allocation payments that are far less and far later then the terms of the Intergovernmental Agreement. Time for D7 board to be held accountable for negligence. Say No to the referendum.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2010 5:15 PM

NotSharing, thanks for the info. Still, though, it's $200K per year and even your description describes it as a "community" asset - with its utility to D97 being vague. Did you see 60 Minutes last night and its reporting about how bk Illinois is? We're in an era of "choice" - and we have to be wise. In the meantime, the former belief of OP's high prop taxes supporting high prop values has been exposed for the fallacy that it's always been. $75M for status quo and more, today, is unacceptable.


Posted: December 20th, 2010 3:44 PM

Also, according the D97 Board meeting agendas and packets, the M-C Dept. presented usage and review information on Jan. 10, 2007 and July 13, 2010. In addition, the M-C Dept. is mentioned repeatedly throughout the District's recent Strategic Plan as a key component of helping children and adults to understand the roles played by various cultural and ethnic groups throughout the community. Usage is not only by D97 schools, but by the community, local colleges, and other districts. It is unique!


Posted: December 20th, 2010 3:37 PM

Just to be accurate, the M-C admin salary figure you cite is from FY2009 and DOES include ALL credible earnings. That means salary plus pension contribution plus money to cover health insurance. According to The Champion, they just call it salary. Total figure for an admin., secretary, and half time clerk is $173,000, including benefits. The remaining money runs the various programs (about $26,000). Teaching about diversity and other cultures is "feel-goodism?" Evening/summer programs help kids!

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2010 2:53 PM

M-C dept costs and utility? Dear "NotSharing," $117,000 is only salary for head of M-C dept-no benefits. D97 reports annual cost for the dept, which has 2 employees, as $200,000. Thru 2018 that's at least $1.6M (increases in wages/benefits). Utility of dept? Other than "feel-goodism" - what?!? ANY evaluation of program? Ever? BTW, average annual D97 teacher pension vastly exceeds $50,000 - starting at 57. Average soc sec is about $24,000 per year - starting at 67. I'd chose former.

Almost a Millionaire  

Posted: December 20th, 2010 1:32 PM

Wow! Based on my social security estimated payments from my time working outside of Illinois, I guess I'm going to retire a millionaire, too! If I start taking benefits at 70 and live 30 more years, millionaire status, here I come! Of course, in Illinois, school teachers and administrators aren't allowed to take part in social security, so that only leaves the state pension system. I think most teachers would be surprised that $50,000/year makes them millionaires in retirement.

steve b  

Posted: December 18th, 2010 11:55 PM

I would gladly approve higher salaries in exchange for eliminating pensions. It is good to see that the public is finally catching on to the outrageous pension costs and abuses. It is pretty easy for most teachers to retire as millionaires or pretty close to one (a $50k pension for 20 years)despite contributing just a fraction of that out of pocket. also, this confidential contract issue is BS - we the taxpayers are the employers and have a right to know how our money is being spent.


Posted: December 18th, 2010 9:48 PM

@Chet21: You mention the Multicultural Dept. and its administrator. What is it about this department you don't like? Which functions of the department do you disagree with? Is it only the reported total administrative salary (which includes the payments covering health insurance and pension contribution to TRS)? Just wondering...

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 3:59 PM

Violet, I'll add to my "squawking" - I just returned from mailing the Spring, 2011 college tuition payment for my son and since my daughter is a jr at OPRF - I'll soon be doubling that (or more). I can also tell you that I just calculated my 2011 income and, ta dah, it will likely be reduced by about 90% - to $5K. The head of the multi-cultural dept had a salary of $117,000 in 2009. Many certified staff earn over $80K - perhaps this is why there are so many applicants per opening? Vote NO!

Lisa Ripley from Oak Park   

Posted: December 16th, 2010 3:40 PM

@ Ms. Eads, What you and many people fail to realize is that 1. most colleges only offer a teaching degree at the masters level and 2. there are many legitimate studies beyond Mr. Gates's funded and slanted research that shows positive student achievement gains resulting from increased teacher education levels. Simply do a google search for "data on teacher education and student achievement" to find scholarly studies from a variety of sources on this topic.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 3:04 PM

Oh it's a major squawking point parroted by the listeners of those Right-wing shows. I am not currently working and when I have visited the District 97 site to find out about openings for non-certified positions I have been dismayed to find pay that seems pretty low-end for a town that collects so much in taxes. Cicero offers better wages for teacher assistants, it would seem! My point is that perhaps the onus should be on OP to "find" the money. How about cancel that $75 mil. hotel?

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 2:30 PM

Violet, I don't listen to much radio at all ("oldies" in the car) and don't have cable tv at home and so your generalizations baffle me. Are you suggesting that I can't think for myself? Interesting. Anyway, I'm NOT advocating class warfare - simply "fairness" and an acknowledgment that OP taxpayers are stressed and that D97 needs to "get" this. An unwillingness to destitute myself to pay for generous wages/benefits in today's economy? "Sour Grapes"? Alright. Why don't YOU send D97 some money?

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 1:33 PM

Chet: May I ask what talk radio shows you enjoy? Methinks it's El Rushbo or Glenn Beck because their job these days seems to be convincing lower-middle-class Americans that those in the middleclass are somehow living the life of Riley. I detected some sour grapes on your part, to be quite honest. The answer to this problem is not to soak the middle-earners (of which I would be in bliss to call myself!) but those above 80K (at least singles).

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 10:21 AM

"Many teachers are putting 80 hour work weeks." With lunch, this equals 12 hours per day - 7 days a week!?! 8 - 8!?! When do they eat/sleep?!? I know "many teachers" (sister-in-law, friends, neighbors) this is impossible hogwash! Ms Eads is correct, stop the "paying teachers more" for additional degrees. My kids obtained a good education from D97 teachers - but stop this "superman" stuff! PLEASE understand that OP (all) taxpayers are stressed and get "real" about this $75M tax increase!

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Parkj  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 8:56 AM

I believe that Bill Gates, whose foundation funds a lot of education research, recently recommended that the practice of paying teachers more if they get a masters degree should be discontinued. Apparently, studies have shown that obtaining these degrees does not improve teacher performance where it counts-in student progress and achievement during the school year. I doubt that the teacher's likeability is a major factor either. We need hard data that we currently cannot obtain.

OP Resident  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 11:26 PM

Many teachers are putting 80 hour work weeks. Their day does not end when classes are dismissed. Papers have to be graded, reports prepared, lessons planned and phone calls made to parents. Most Oak Park teachers have earned advanced degrees. No one goes into the profession for the monetary rewards. Teachers are easy targets for those who know nothing about the time and effort required. Our children are inspired and encouraged to learn because teachers are willing to give so much of themselves.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 9:56 PM

Violet, is it possible that you could rethink this post: "I guess the growing divide between rich and poor is fine"? Why? Because this referendum has NOTHING about what you wrote and EVERYTHING about making me, who earns much less than your middle-class-education-employees "poor!" The "divide" being requested in this $75M referendum is between the well-compensated and job-secure and the rest of us. You want "the rest of us" to pay for salary/pensions/benefits that few of us can even dream of?


Posted: December 15th, 2010 8:51 PM

raise my taxes and give the teachers a raise. bad teachers do need to go, however the majority of teachers I have encountered have been excellent. give my tax money to these teachers of my children and the other children in our community. We also need to give our firefighters and police officers more money. They all deserve it. So quit your whining and take care of the people who take care of our community.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 8:31 PM

@Allen: Sounds like you could use a refresher edumacation course, at least in Keyboarding 101, but I digress...Soooo nice false choices, buddy! I guess you are on the bandwagon like so many to dismantle yet another middleclass profession...Why should teachers' pay and pension get cut? I guess the growing divide between rich and poor is fine and dandy to you, eh? Priorities are a hoot!

Allen Torsiello from OP  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 8:14 PM

What a hypocrite you are, Annon. Dedicated to your children indeed, what a crock. When Con con was being voted on the teachbers unions urged and the teachers followed with a no vote. Con Con would have provided more state funindg for educayion. Tbut the teachers were afraid that their pension s would be cut. So cut the crarp: Your pay and pensions are more important to you than my kids.

Britt Newsome from OakPark  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 6:01 PM

We should put a cap on teacher and administrative salaries at $50,000. Who cares if we do not employ highly qualified teachers. They are only caretakers of our children. Why should we worry about keeping experienced, well educated individuals when we have such a large pool of candidates to choose from each year. We can hire recent graduates every year and save tons of money. I do not have children and I surely do not want to waste my money on your children. Let's return to private tutors.


Posted: December 15th, 2010 5:29 PM

Great teachers spend a huge portion of their paychecks on your children so they love learning and going to school.Think about the amount of hours outside of your office that you spend working on, thinking about,and planning for your job. When was the last time you were a secretary, therapist, nurse, surrogate parent, custodian, and accountant all within a matter of 30 minutes while being distinguished in your own job. We do it every day. Please respect our dedication to your children.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 4:49 PM

Then the contracts need to be renegotiated. The Board and the District have conceded too much. Although Oak Park considers itself an avant-garde community, we seem to be behind other areas of the country (LA, NYC, DC) in our approach to teacher evaluation and community access to teacher performance data This is particularly true with respect to comparison data on specific teachers.


Posted: December 15th, 2010 3:51 PM

There are several reasons for being sensitive about the release of employee evaluation information: 1. violation of current contract language (you may not like union contracts, but they are in force and lawsuits cost money, too), 2. the use of a new evaluation system may result in confusion about the numbers and evaluation categories (the District just started using a new system last year - thus fewer "Distinguished" teachers), and 3. comparing teacher performance is not the same for all areas.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 2:44 PM

Why does the district have to be "sensitive" about releasing the data. If my kid is in the classroom all year with a teacher whose students have consistently, over time, failed to improve over the school year, should I be protected from that data? The Board, local politicians, and local school administrators are far too terrified of teachers' unions. When a substantial tax increase is on the table, all information about school performance should be available and accessible.


Posted: December 15th, 2010 1:07 PM

As soon as they start tallking about across the board pay CUTS - not just for teachers - and elimination of teacher tenure I'll start listening.

Blanning from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 12:25 PM

According to the D97 Boardbook minutes, HR head Trish Carlson said, "Only 65 teachers out of more than 400 were identified in the distinguished category last year." The Board also requested statistics for all teacher evaluation categories and suggested "that a plan be put in place to share the evaluation process with the community. Dr. Roberts asked the Board to be sensitive regarding the data sharing of the four domains."

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 11:24 AM

I agree that this proposal, if accurately described, is probably a bargaining strategy, made so the administration can appear to be trying to cut costs. What is needed is more information about teacher performance in District 97, in particular, specific teacher performance. This is particularly true as both middle schools performed poorly in recent testing. Although teacher evaluation is now being debated nationally, due to the efforts of Michelle Rhee and others, local debate has been lacking

PE152 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 15th, 2010 9:18 AM

I make $10K more in the Chicago Public Schools than an OP teacher with the same years and education. Plus a contract is a contract. When the economy was booming did teachers get a a raise above what was in the contract? I don't think so. Are all positions supported by taxes asked to take a pay freeze? This is a bargaining stratagy to build a stronger case for the $75 million and make teachers look uncaring. They pulled the same in Chicago last June. Stay strong OP teachers.

Questioning Comments from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 10:46 PM

Todd-where did you get that 1 in 6 statistic? Are you talking about teachers or abt gov't employees in general? I am a career gov't employee (not a teacher), and can assure you that your "fact" is actually fiction. I know hundreds of government employees, and not one of them chose the job for "high salary" because it doesn't exist, at least not when you compare education, skills and job requirements to equivalent jobs in private industry.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 6:36 PM

As a parent with two recent D97 grads, I can truly not say enough good things about our D97 experience. However, they are indeed well compensated for their efforts and, mostly, acknowledge this - esp today. Will a return to 2008 step table or total freeze, along with cutting multi-cultural dept, K-5 Spanish, etc. eliminate or reduce need for $75M until 2018? I await new figures from board.

Todd Eliford from PO{P  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 5:11 PM

One out of every 6 work for govetnment because of lifetime job security, high pay, and taxpayer paid P & W. Let the teachers pay their own P & W and we'll see some real "sharing" of the depression we're in.

NotSharing from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 4:49 PM

About merit pay: In schools, students are generally fairly randomly assigned to teachers. Most merit plans call for rewarding teachers who raise test scores or do additional work. In a randomized classroom, you may have a learning range of several years. What about the teacher of gifted? Or music? How are they fairly compared to regular classroom teachers? Unlike sales figures or product produced, merit for pay is much less obvious in a classroom setting. It can be done but it's complicated.

NotSharing from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 4:44 PM

Working cash bonds are explained in an earlier article (Nov. 19?). This money through 2018 keeps the District able to pay its bills along with cuts to some programs and services. The teacher pay mentioned by Bill is in reference to the salary schedule. Almost every district has this: a teacher gets one year of experience pay each year (step advancement) plus whatever the increase to the base/starting pay is each year. These are not merit-based. Unlike a sold product, merit is harder to measure.

Paul Landerman  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 3:53 PM

Can someone explain what "$75 million working cash" means? I'm not opposed to teachers getting a pay increase, but reading Bill's post makes me have questions regarding increases for teachers. I think teachers should be in the same boat as most people: you do good, you get rewarded. Don't just give increases that are not dependent on merit.


Posted: December 14th, 2010 3:08 PM

Time for teachers to return to the world that most of us live in.

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 2:58 PM

Agree with Bill 100% - will be voting no on the referendum.

Bill from OP  

Posted: December 14th, 2010 2:28 PM

This year District 97 had 4500 qualified applicants to fill 45 open teaching positions. This indicates an imbalance in the supply and demand for teachers. The threat of teacher flight to higher paying districts has no basis in reality. Teachers receive two types of pay increase each year. One is a cost of living increase (which has nothing to do with job performance) and the other is a step pay increase (which has nothing to do with job performance). What other service provider can grant employees pay increases regardless of performance or economic conditions. I hope the referendum is defeated and that District 97 is forced to make reforms that will place children above the financial interest of employees.

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