D97 ratifies new teacher contract

4-year deal had broad support among administration, union

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

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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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 18th, 2018 8:07 PM

@ nick A. Bonotti: You are correct. However the point you miss is that these employees loose 81% to 74% of their SSI return from their jobs before they were teachers, their jobs when they were teachers and their jobs when they retire from teaching. It is called a pension group offset. Plus SSI will not take a lessor deduction from your paycheck outside of teaching.

Neal Buer  

Posted: June 18th, 2018 6:26 PM

My friend in banking spent 35 years at the same bank. He gets $1,300 a month plus social securty. This totals about $36,000 a year. How much would the teachers pension beafter 35 years? And while working was less than a teacher makes.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 18th, 2018 12:51 PM

Teachers do not receive Social Security for their school employment because they do not pay into Social Security for their school employment. I'm not sure why folks have a hard time grasping this basic fact.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 17th, 2018 9:19 PM

@Nancy Alexander: It certainly would be helpful if your presented some data to support your argument. While bloated teacher pensions apply to a relative (but high profile) minority of teachers, and not the majority of teachers, to say that teacher pensions are "meager" is simply false ...at least false when compared to an average peer cohort in the private sector. The average SS pensioneer with his or her defined contribution plan 401K (if she or he indeed has one) still makes less in retirement than the average teacher depending upon their defined benefit plan. The average teacher in Illinois had a defined benefit of over $54K in 2017. And this does not even include the generous health care benefits which is generally not available to the retiree in the private sector. In order for a private sector employee to match this - taking into account the average SS benefit - he or she would need to purchase a $1 million annuity ($40K annually from the annuity plus $14K annually from SS) ... unaffordable for most. In fact the average private sector retiree does not have enough - despite receiving SS - to sustain a reasonable long term retirement. Not true with most teachers. https://www.trsil.org/news-and-events/pension-issues/teacher-pensions-too-generous https://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2018/01/16/chicago-teacher-pension-payday-top-earners-2017 https://www.moneysmartguides.com/average-401k-plan-balance

Nancy Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2018 5:41 PM

Please stop complaining about "bloated pensions" for teachers, and remember in Illinois, teachers do NOT receive Social Security for their school employment. The costs of choosing teaching over other more lucrative careers also include their meager pensions.

Nick Polido  

Posted: June 11th, 2018 9:33 AM

I agree with Jason in that we all would love A+ teachers, in reality there are teachers that all the parents know and avoid them like the plague. My biggest issue is that same A+ teacher is paid the same salary as the under-performer given the same years of service and education. (I applaud D97 for making some in roads in this idiotic pay structure)

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 9th, 2018 3:38 PM

Nick: Thank you for clarifications. But I agree with Marc, the numbers in regard to the pensions, are still outrageous and very concerning.

Marc Martinez from Oak Park  

Posted: June 9th, 2018 10:50 AM

I would like to know the current total spending, the new contract total spend, the average compensation, and the average pension. The fractured reporting of clauses gives us little idea of how much we can expect our taxes to increase to cover the new contract. But I was struck by the continued support for bloated pensions. The slow phase out of the 6% retirement goose which is a 26% cumulative raise in the last four years. And the addition of the new $3,000 pension contribution and a 403B as icing. So the income tax has more to cover too.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 8:52 PM

Tom/Bruce - I think part of the issue is the length of the evaluation process. For tenured teachers, the process, which itself is once every two years, takes nearly the entire school year with Formative Observation and Summative Evaluation not occurring until March/April. By then, there's no chance to address performance issues and react before school's out. Non-tenured teachers, on the other hand, are evaluated multiple times during the year, allowing the district to evaluate and react within that same school year (pg 50-51 of contract: https://bit.ly/2Jm31tX). Perhaps the non-tenured process isn't scalable.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 4:49 PM

(Continued): In this system the bottom 10% of performers were summarily dismissed ? no performance improvement plan (PIP) for them. This system has admittedly lost popularity in the business world in recent times, but was so influential that it was part of Microsoft's culture up to as recently as 2013. So I would say a lot of us older workers have indeed been exposed to the harsh realities of the forced ranking system where under performance leads to dismissal, rather than a chance to improve. Yes, some private sector firms have procedures for dealing with underperforming employees involving performance improvement plans as you describe. But in the absence of union agreements, many still do not. As long as a firm does not violate federal or local statutes (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 etc.) employees as Tom implies serve at the will of the employer, and can be fired at will. Lawsuits? They cost money. And the "deeper" pocket frequently determines outcome. And often times the employer has the deeper pocket than the employee. Contingencies? Unless there is a big payoff coupled to an egregious employer action, no plaintiffs lawyer will take such cases on contingencies. And even if suits are still brought, some companies might view this as the cost of doing business. So I would say ?" again in my experience ?" Tom's description of the workplace is far more accurate than yours.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 4:48 PM

Jason: I have worked in both the private and public sector (Federal Government). I would say Tom's assessment is closer to what I have experienced that what you have described. Prior to recent "reforms" it was virtually impossible to fire someone in the federal employ. What often happened was what I called the PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) Shuffle. An underperforming employee for instance, would be put on a PIP (by the way for 90 days, now with federal reform it is 30 days) and he or she would often improve. But then after the PIP period was over, they would slip right back into underperformance. And the whole process would have to be repeated. And if things got too adversarial, well there was always the filing of an EEOC complaint, usually under the gender or race categories. And if that didn't work well one could always roll out the tried and true "hostile" work place gambit. I am personally aware of an employee ordered to stay home while a complaint of harassment against him was adjudicated. He stayed home for eight months and received full salary and benefits, finally returning to work none the less for wear. I was told that this was not out of the ordinary. I remember my colleagues and I thinking maybe we should harass somebody! Contrast that to the private sector. What Tom is describing is the well known "rank and yank" system popularized by Jack Welsh former CEO of GE.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 7:21 AM

@Tom, you say you understand how this all works but then continue to make the same argument. This isn't some D97 issue. Employees get a chance to perform better after they get a poor review. That's the way it works. D97 isn't unique here. At your largest firm in the universe did people get kicked out when they got their first poor review? I guarantee the answer is no. They got a chance to remedy things and if they couldn't then they were out. D97 operates like any decent size employer or school district everywhere in this regard. Would everyone love it if only A+ teachers taught our kids? That would certainly be great but just like at any company that's not the reality.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 7th, 2018 6:52 PM

Kids get to lose a year of learning when they get a lousy teacher, who then gets to do the same thing the next year to another class full. I have trouble understanding why the teachers union wants so badly to protect bad teachers when they would be replaced by another union teacher who is better at the job. And why D97 lets it happen. Jeff - thanks for pointing out that you don't like some national leaders, who have nothing at all to do with the local schools.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: June 7th, 2018 6:13 PM

Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Immelt, Terry Kundgren, Jack Dorsey, Tim Sloan, etc. If America was ever a meritocracy, those days are long gone. We live in a country where the worst and most mediocre rise to the top and stay there - a kakistocracy. In the real world people don't get fired if they're incompetent - they get promoted and richer and richer and richer.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 7th, 2018 5:37 PM

Jason, I worked at the biggest IT companies in the world. So thanks for the attempted lesson on how things work, but in the real world they do things like forced rankings in every team to weed out the driftwood. At D97 the students take second place every time, but they are not in the union.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 6th, 2018 9:22 PM

@Tom, this isn't the case. I am not sure when you last worked for a company but typically a bad review leads to a performance plan which then can lead to termination but also can lead to improvement and things turning around. HR departments are careful not to provide any appearance that an employee didn't get a fair shake so the company doesn't get sued. This doesn't say anything about the policy to actually fire a teacher which I bet is similar to what I posted above.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2018 4:24 PM

So a teacher who is unsatisfactory does not get a pay raise that year. In the real world people get fired when they are not satisfactory. The kids get stuck with unsatisfactory -- way to go D97.

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