School Board Approves 16 Layoffs and a Teacher Contract 'No One is Happy About'
Two voted against the contract because of pension enhancements for teachers at the top of the scale.
The teachers of Elmhurst Unit District 205 finally have a new, four-year contract, and taxpayers will now know what is in it.
The 18-month negotiation process divided the community and, just last month, the School Board declared an impasse fueling speculation about a strike.
According to comments on Elmhurst Patch, some taxpayers concluded the teachers were expecting too many financial perks, while the teachers' supporters said not everyone can do the difficult job of teaching. Some said pensions are out of control, while the teachers' supporters said they are entitled to that money and are not to blame for the pension debacle orchestrated by the state of Illinois. The teachers union claimed the district had a $27 million surplus; the School District unequivocally denied the existence of a surplus, and on it went.
And while the contract was approved 5-2 by the School Board Tuesday, board President Susan DeRonne summed it up by saying, "It's a contract that nobody is really happy with."
On the one hand, the contract holds salaries steady for most teachers, and instructional time in the elementary schools will increase, bringing District 205 schools up to state average. Teachers also have agreed to help students during one additional period every day who are falling behind academically, hopefully bringing all students up to grade-level reading by the end of middle school and eliminating the need for the reading cohort program at York High School.
But board members say the contract also has elements that benefit a few teachers in a big way, and that could be a job killer.
Board member Chris Blum said his "no" vote is not intended as a show of disrespect to the dedicated teachers in District 205. "I truly wish we had greater resources and options to reward them for the true value they contribute," he said.
But there is no $27 million surplus, "rather a checking account that is dangerously close to negative by the end of the fiscal year, and increasing unfunded mandates from a state that doesn't pay its bills," Blum said.
He pointed to budget cuts, including the layoff of 16 certified teachers, that were approved Tuesday night. Six elementary, three middle school and seven high school teachers have been notified. The board will look at non-certified positions to cut in the future.
"We are forced to pursue very painful measures … including teacher layoffs resulting in increased class sizes, fewer high school electives, diminished music and foreign language offerings and reduced library services," he said, adding that funds also are needed to repair aging buildings, and for state mandates and technology enhancements.
He took issue with the following three provisions in the contract.
- Tying Labor Costs to Revenue
"While the team made significant progress in linking raises during the first three years of this contract to the (consumer price index), the fourth year reverts to the old structure of an automatic raise of over $850,000 with no link to growth in our revenues, thereby increasing the risk of additional painful cuts to balance our budget should revenues come up short."
- Retirement Salary Spiking
District negotiators attempted to kill a provision that allows for teachers to declare their intention to retire four years before they retire, and then provides for automatic raises of 6 percent a year over the four years to increase the salary on which retirement benefits are based.
"As a taxpayer, I find this practice irresponsible, particularly in a situation where the teacher’s retirement fund already has a deficit of over $43 billion," Blum said. "Our negotiations attempted to end this practice. And while this contract has a provision to end spiking should the state shift the pension obligation from the Illinois income taxpayer to the district property tax payer, maintaining this provision in the current contract has significant potential to cost the district over $750,000 over the term of this contract, regardless of legislative outcomes."
- Salary Plus
Salary Plus allows teachers at the top of the scale to earn an additional $6,000 a year for taking classes. "We are the only comparable unit district providing this benefit, which is projected to cost the district in excess of $1.2 million over the term of this contract," Blum said.
Board member Jim Collins also voted no on the contract, saying the provisions mentioned by Blum "increase salary and pensions of a subset of teachers who already are the highest paid, the majority of whom are nearing the end of their careers."
Under Salary Plus, Collins said, a teacher at the top earning $104,000 a year can take up to seven additional courses and increase their total pay by $6,000 a year. It is the salary at the end of a teachers' career on which pensions are based.
Collins also said the retirement incentive program "should be renamed the pension enhancement plan."
"I had hoped we could eliminate at least one of these two programs by the end of this contract," Collins said. "While about 90 percent of our teachers will be getting paid some pretty small raises over the next four years, about 10 percent of our highest paid teachers will be getting, by any standard, some very large raises."
The board laid off 16 teachers "on the same night that we're approving a contract that continues these two pension enhancement programs that will cost the district $295,000 in the first year of the contract and $695,000 by the last year," Collins said.
If the board cannot find the revenue to support these pension enhancements, it will cost 4 1/2 teacher jobs in the first year and more than 10 in the final year of the contract, Collins said.
"I ask myself if that will cost the community our elementary world language program, or our music or art programs," he said. "We can no longer afford those provisions—not at the cost of teacher jobs, not at the cost of larger class sizes and not at the cost of sacrificing the richness of the curriculum we offer our children."
No members of the Elmhurst Teachers Union spoke at the meeting.
Besides being a four-year contract as opposed to a three-year agreement, which was customary in the past, other material changes are as follows:
- The collaboration leadership group, (the District Leadership Team), has been restructured to increase the number of teacher leaders on the team.
- The number of teacher work days has increased from 181 to 182, with the extra work day resulting in increased parent-teacher conference time.
- Professional expectations for teacher participation at events outside the school day are increased, with teachers attending three events, not to exceed seven hours in total length.
- The work day was altered at all three levels to increase teacher availability for professional collaboration.
- The student day at the elementary level has been lengthened by 15 minutes.
- Language has been addressed to provide greater clarity on the supervision assignments at the high school.
- The middle school teacher support period has been tied to student achievement, with teachers needing to set measurable student goals to improve student performance.
- The performance evaluation language has been re-written to ensure compliance with the mandates set forth in Senate Bill 7.
- Access to new teachers prior to the start of the school year was increased.
- Personal day restrictions were removed, except for professional development days.
- The tuition reimbursement plan was restructured so that all teachers are reimbursed at the same rate.
- The course approval plan was restructured to ensure that course work taken for reimbursement or lane movement reflects the needs of the district.
- The Salary Plus program was tied to the teacher evaluation system.
- Teachers must choose between receiving four years of 6 percent increases, or five years of health insurance reimbursement once they retire. In the past, they were eligible for both.
- If the state requires school districts increase their contribution to the Teacher Retirement System, the 6 percent retirement incentive becomes frozen with no new teachers entering the program, and teachers already in the program will not be eligible for future 6 percent pay increases
- For the 2011-12 school year, teachers will not receive step increases, and there is no new money added to the base rate of pay from 2010-11 school year. Teachers who earned a lane change will be credited with lane movement for the second half of the year
- For the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, no step will be given.
- For 2014-15, the last year of the contract, teachers will be able to move one step.
- For the 2012-13 school year, the second year of the contract, the base will increase by 50 percent of the 2010 consumer price index, which was 1.5 percent. Therefore, the base will increase by .75 percent.
- For the 2013-14 school year, base will increase by 50 percent of the 2011 CPI which was 3 percent, therefore the base will increase by 1.5 percent
- For the 2014-15 school year, there will be no increase to the base, but teachers will be able to move one step.
"We entered into these negotiations with a contract that compensates Elmhurst teachers better then any other group of unit district teachers in DuPage County, and we ended this negotiation with a contract that compensates our teachers better than any other unit district teachers in DuPage County," Collins said. "Our children and community will benefit from these changes."
Board members and Superintendent David Pruneau thanked all those involved in the difficult negotiation process.
"It got to the 11th hour, but we were able to come to an agreement that will serve the district well, serve the teachers well," Pruneau said. "I'm hoping in the long term, over the four years, we will minimize reductions (in staff), retain the excellent programs we offer in Elmhurst and really start a partnership between the teachers and the School District."