The District 65 School Board and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union) have each ratified a four-year contract, which begins retroactively with this school year. DEC’s membership approved the contract on Nov.14 by a narrow margin of 287 to 279 votes, sources told the RoundTable. The School Board unanimously approved the contract on Nov. 17.

“Financially, this agreement is the richest offering since the inception of tax caps in 1994,” said School Board president Mary Erickson. She added that the contract contains language changes that “incorporate best-educational practices” and provide for “ongoing teacher professional development.”

The contract was reached with the help of a federal mediator. Members of DEC had previously rejected by a wide margin a tentative agreement reached by the negotiating teams, and voted days before the second tentative agreement was reached to strike if no deal was reached.

Salary Increases

“Under this agreement, base salaries will increase by 3.5% in the first year, then 3.25%, in the second, and 3.5% in the third and fourth years,” said Ms. Erickson. “And, because almost 80% of the teachers will move a step each year, most teachers will see annual increases of 6.23%, 5.98%, 6.23%, and 6.23%. That amounts to almost 24%, plus compounding.”

Under the contract a new teacher with a bachelors degree and no prior experience will earn $40,676 this year.

A teacher currently on Track III, Step 10, earned $63,275 (slightly less than the District’s average teacher salary) under the old contract. With the base salary and step increases, that teacher will earn $79,182 in the fourth year of the new contract, Mary Brown, the District’s chief financial officer, told the RoundTable. These figures do not include any potential increases for track movement which can enable a teacher to receive a double-digit increase in a particular year.

The maximum teacher salary will increase from $88,820 under the old contract to $101,676 in the fourth year of the new contract, said Dr. Brown.

“In addition to salary increases, the contract continues compensation features that maximize teacher retirement incomes,” said Ms. Erickson. “It also continues a fair benefits package that includes District-subsidized health and dental plans.”

Under the new contract, teachers will pay a higher portion of the health insurance premiums than under the old contract, but the District will continue to pay the bulk of those premiums, Pat Markham, School Board secretary, told the RoundTable.

Increased Class Time

Ms. Erickson said, “The Board stretched financially because of the desire for increased instructional time for students.” Starting next year, the contract extends the instructional day by 10 minutes at the elementary grade levels and by 20 minutes at the middle school level.

“This increase is in response to greater instructional demands, research indicating that increased instructional time benefits all students, and in particular low-income students, and requests expressed by parents and teachers,” Ms. Erickson said.

The teachers’ workday, however, will be shortened in the morning before students arrive by 10 minutes.

Dr. Murhpy told the RoundTable that the additional time will allow teachers to transition between subjects more smoothly and at the middle schools will create additional time for planning and collaboration among teachers. He said the cumulative impact of the additional time will be significant over a school year.

Other Benefits

Ms. Erickson added, “There are many other rich offerings in the agreement that support our teachers. They include a tuition reimbursement program that will begin next year, adding domestic partners in our benefits package, military service recognition, the opportunity to earn a bonus in years when teacher attendance is improved, and an agreement to collaborate with our teachers in developing certain evaluation and merit pay criteria that will be used for future teacher opportunities.”

This agreement is in the best interests of the students in our District,” said Ms. Erickson. “We negotiated in good faith with careful consideration for what all of us value in education, with concern for what we heard is important to parents, with concern for the needs of our teachers, and appreciation of the difficulties everyone faces in the current economic environment.”

Dr. Murphy told the RoundTable one important benefit of the four-year contract is that it provides stability and will allow the District to focus on educating children. He added that parents entrust their children to teachers every day. This contract expresses the community’s appreciation to teachers for their hard work and the gains they have helped to make in the District, he said.

“Education is an important part of what makes Evanston a thriving community. Families make new homes here based on the reputation of our schools,” said DEC spokesperson Amy Kipfer.

“We want what’s in the best interest of the children and their families, a highly qualified, consistent teaching staff that makes a long-term commitment to our schools.

“We are really glad that this process is resolved.” said Ms. Kipfer.

Impact on the Budget

The budget adopted by the School Board on Sept. 22 assumed teachers’ salaries would increase 3.7 percent, and using that assumption showed an operating surplus of $214,647 for the 2008-09 school year. The budget pegged the cost of all employee salaries at $62.8 million. About two-thirds of that is for salaries of DEC’s members (which includes, teachers, librarians and social workers), Kathy Zalewski, D65 comptroller, told the RoundTable. While the District has reached a new contract with DEC, it is still in negotiations with other employee groups.

Dr. Murphy told the RoundTable that the new teachers’ contract would increase the District’s expenses about $600,000 this year. He said the administration was reviewing the budget and planned to cut costs for supplies and purchased services, so the bottom line in this year’s budget would not change.