School District 65 and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) have still not reached a collective bargaining agreement for the 2016-17 school year and beyond. The current four-year agreement expires on Aug. 23, 2016. Negotiating sessions are scheduled for three or four days in the week of Aug. 15.
Superintendent Paul Goren told the RoundTable, “I do anticipate that schools will open on time” – Aug. 24.
Paula Zelinski, President of DEC, confirmed, “Schools are opening on time.” She told the RoundTable. “Teachers know that school is starting and they will be starting the school year without a contract. We will know more after Aug. 17.
“We had a general membership meeting on May 25 and, at that time, the membership authorized the executive committee to activate the strike timeline if they saw fit,” said Ms. Zelinski. “As of right now, we have not done that.”
Ms. Zelinski added that in order to implement the strike timeline, one side would have to declare an impasse, the parties would need to have to have at least one session with a federal mediator, the last best and final offers would need to be posted, and only then could the union proceed with calling for a strike.
DEC proposed in the fall of 2014 that District 65 and DEC engage in “interest-based bargaining,” a collaborative form of bargaining that requires joint training and preparation, said Ms. Zelinski. “It’s more, ‘Here is the issue, now let’s all work on this issue together.’ It’s very different from what we are doing, which is positional bargaining, which is, ‘Here’s our proposal, and then they hand back their proposal.’”
The District declined to go forward with interest-based bargaining, Ms. Zelinski said.
Candance Chow, President of the District 65 School Board, told the RoundTable that interest-based bargaining requires extensive training and “the District instead suggested a hybrid model wherein interest-based bargaining would be used to negotiate a select number of mutually identified issues and a traditional approach to address other contract issues. DEC declined this offer. As a result, a traditional approach has been used throughout the current negotiations process.”
DEC and District 65 started bargaining in February, and the negotiations continued through June, with two informal negotiations taking place during the summer, said Ms. Zelinski. Most of the time has been spent on working conditions and non-financial matters, which can include classroom safety, teacher evaluation, professionalism, and respect, she said. “Many of those issues have yet to be resolved.”
DEC has made a proposal regarding compensation, and the District has made a proposal regarding compensation, Ms. Zelinski said, adding, “There’s been no real discussion about it.”
Neither side was willing to talk about the compensation proposals or other details of the negotiations.
In May and again during the summer, Ms. Zelinski said DEC proposed using a federal mediator to assist in the negotiations because “at the pace we were going, we needed something to move us along.” The District declined to do so, she said.
The Negotiating Teams
When the negotiations began in February, Ms. Zelinski said DEC learned that neither Dr. Goren nor any member of the School Board would be participating on the District’s bargaining team. “Teachers were unsettled by this decision. We believe that having all stakeholders present at the bargaining table leads to an efficient bargaining process by allowing for directness of communication and greater transparency,” she says in a guest essay (link below).
“It is common practice for the Board and Superintendent to appoint and work alongside bargaining team members in negotiations,” said Ms. Chow. “Contract discussions with DEC unfolded in a customary manner by first focusing on a wide range of issues related to working conditions. The bargaining team was able to reach several tentative agreements with DEC to address some of these issues. Dr. Goren joined the negotiations table in June as the conversation shifted to economic issues. He continues to spearhead all planning efforts and will continue to sit directly at the negotiations table until an agreement is reached.”
Ms. Chow added that Dr. Goren and School Board members have been actively involved since the start of the bargaining process. She said members of the Board have served on several teams to provide oversight and inform the planning process as it relates to working conditions, finances, and employee benefits. Board members also receive status updates on a weekly basis from Dr. Goren, in addition to discussing progress in the negotiations in executive sessions, she said.
District 65’s Structural Deficit
In a guest essay (link below), Dr. Goren and Ms. Chow say, “As negotiations continue, our goal is to strike a balance that honors District 65 staff and the critical work they do to support students while directly addressing the structural deficit.
“Despite spending reductions over many, many years, we face increasing costs and decreasing revenues, resulting in structural deficits. Revenues are only increasing by 0.8% this year while expenditures, on average, are increasing by 3.5%. This structural deficit is something that has existed for many years, yet has not been solved. We are committed to tackling this issue head-on.”
Ms. Zelinski told the RoundTable, “We have not been discussing financial issues” during the negotiations.
As part of its budget presentation to the School Board on June 6, District administrators projected the District will operate at a deficit of $4.5 million for the year ending June 30, 2018 (FY’18), and then operate at deficits of $6.8 million in FY’19, $6.5 million in FY’20, and $10.4 million in FY’21.
The main driver of these projected deficits is that salaries and benefits, which account for 84% of the District’s operating expenses, are projected to increase at a faster pace than property tax revenues, which account for about 76% of the District’s operating revenues. Property taxes are subject to tax caps, which limit the amout by which the District may increase property taxes to the lower of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 5%.
In the last eight years, the average CPI has been 1.5%. In the last four years the average CPI has been 1.175%.
District 65’s guest essay also says the “projected deficits could become even worse given the significant uncertainty of State funding for District 65 and public school systems across Illinois.”
For the last several years, the State legislature has been considering ways to revamp the way the State funds education. One bill, SB 231, which passed the Senate but was not voted on in the House, would reduce State funding to District 65 by $6.1 million per year once the phase-in is completed.
Other threats from the State include shifting pension costs from the State to school districts and freezing property taxes. According to the District’s budget documents, if pension costs are shifted from the State to school districts, the impact on District 65 could be an estimated $322,641 in the first year, growing to $1.5 million in the fourth year. If property taxes are frozen, the District estimates it would lose about $1 million in the first year, increasing to $6 million in the fourth year.
DEC’s Expiring Contract With D65
The District’s expiring contract with DEC was a four-year contract approved in September 2012. Under that contract, the base salary of teachers was increased by a total of 4% increase over the four years. As part of their compensation package, teachers also received “step” increases (based on years of experience) and they potentially received “track” increases (based on education level, performance rating, service to the District, etc.).
In 2011-12, a teacher who had five-years experience and was in Track II had a salary of $55,787. In 2015-16, that teacher’s salary was $69,789, a 25.1% increase, assuming no track movement. If that teacher moved up to Track III, the teacher’s salary in 2015-16 would be $73,099, a 31% increase.
Under the salary schedule in the expiring contract, the base starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience was $47,161 in 2015-16. The salary for teachers with 21 years experience and who were in the highest track, Track V, was $106,583 in 2015-16.
District 65 has one superintendent and four assistant superintendents. Their average salary for the 2015-16 school year was $203,707. At the request of Dr. Goren, the Board froze his salary last year and this coming year, and Dr. Goren has frozen the salaries of his senior leadership team this coming year and tied future raises to the CPI.
Ms. Zelinski says in her guest essay, “Our goal is as it has always been – to complete a fair agreement that maintains and supports high quality classrooms that best serve the children while attracting and retaining outstanding teachers.”
“I speak for the Board and the negotiating team led by Dr. Goren in saying we remain optimistic that both sides will move closer to reaching an agreement,” said Ms. Chow. “We have tremendous support for our teachers and are committed to working collaboratively to reach a fair agreement.”