On Aug. 20, the District 65 Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) held a rally before the School Board’s meeting to demonstrate support for their position in the negotiating sessions. An estimated 200 teachers marched from the Joseph E. Hill administration building north on McDaniel, east on Church Street to Evanston Township High School and then back.
DEC issued the following statement: “The District 65 Educators’ Council (DEC) and the District 65 School Board have participated in contract negotiation sessions since March 2012. At this time there is still not a contract agreement. There are joint bargaining sessions scheduled for this week. A federal mediator has been working with the two sides since August 8th and will continue to supervise the upcoming sessions. DEC is hopeful and will continue to work for a settlement agreement that protects high quality education in District 65. DEC has several online sites to keep the parents and the community informed on the issues.”
At the School Board’s meeting on Aug. 20, DEC president Jean Luft told Board members that the rally demonstrated that teachers were unified in the contract negotiations. Ms. Luft said teachers were advocating for high quality education and were concerned about changes that she said would not lead to high quality education and learning conditions. The changes affect: scheduling; fine arts; extra curricular activities; teachers’ professional planning time and the ability of the district to recruit and retain excellent teachers and educators.
As part of its deficit reduction strategies, District 65 administrators plan to reduce the number of fine-arts teachers by 2.5 teachers and the number of physical education teachers by 2.5 teachers. The remaining fine arts teachers and physical education teachers would be expected to teach 1,400 minutes per week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This would bring them more into line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers, say administrators.
DEC says these changes will add a seventh period per day for art, music and physical education teachers, that new schedules will require some of these teachers to travel between school buildings on several days per week, that the changes will result in cutting 40 minutes a week of fine arts instruction for most students in the fourth and fifth grades, and that the cuts will result in inconsistent scheduling of classes.
Several parents also protested the reduction in the number of fine arts teachers, saying that research shows that instruction in the fine arts helps to engage students, improves their cognitive thinking skills and improves test scores.
During discussions on the budget earlier this year, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the reduction in fine arts and physical education teachers was necessary to reduce the projected operating deficits and to help balance the budgets for the next three years.
DEC also says some of the proposed changes will cut the amount of professional planning time for fourth and fifth grade teachers and not increase the planning time for K-3 teachers, which DEC says is currently inadequate. DEC also objects to changes it says will cut 20 minutes a day from middle school teacher’s collaboration time.”
DEC says planning and coordination time is essential to enable teachers to provide high quality education. In the past few years, many teachers told Board members that common planning time is critical to enable general education teachers and special education teachers to plan how they will co-teach in inclusion classrooms. In addition, research on effective professional development highlights the importance of providing collaborative and collegial learning environments.
At the School Board meeting on Aug. 20, School Board President said, “Out of respect for our parents, the Evanston/Skokie community and the negotiation process, we have chosen not to communicate publicly about proposals on the table. Given DEC’s public appeals, however, we believe it would be helpful if we made a few comments:
- “As Board members we take very seriously the responsibility to our students, our teachers and other district employees, and our community. We also take seriously our fiscal responsibilities.
- “As a Board, we are charged with using finite resources in a manner that maximizes the best education for our students.
- “We understand the importance of planning time. We have surveyed several other districts and found that the planning time we provide our teachers is more than competitive with what most other districts offer.
- “We would like to note that we have not made a single bargaining proposal that would reduce the planning time required under our current contract. We did announce some changes at the end of our last school year that were allowed under our current contract. We are willing to negotiate and have over the last five months. For our K-5 teachers, we have proposed that their work day be the same as it is for our middle school teacher work day. That would provide increased planning time for them without adding classroom contact time. We also have discussed a concept that would further increase K-5 teacher planning time as well as improve the delivery of K-5 fine arts programming.
- “During negotiations we have carefully listened to DEC’s proposals and ideas. In turn, we have made proposals and ideas that we are confident would benefit our students. Our District will continue to offer a strong program for students that includes art, music, drama and PE.
- “We want to make this point clear: The Board has worked hard to respond to DEC’s concerns and has made substantial efforts to compromise. Currently, we are waiting for union leadership to respond to proposals made during last week’s negotiation session.
- “Be assured, the Board will continue to do all we can to use District resources to promote strong educational programs that best serve our students, are within available resources, and are fiscally responsible. We remain fully committed to working with DEC and the federal mediator to find common ground and achieve a fair and fiscally responsible contract. We believe we have the same interests at heart: delivering what is best for all students in this district.”
Tentative Budget for 2012-13 Shows a Surplus
On Aug. 20 the School Board approved a tentative budget for the 2012-13 school year that incorporates deficit reduction strategies that were discussed by the School Board and the Board’s Finance Committee many times in the last six months. District administrators say the strategies reduce operating expenses by about $4.4 million by, among other things, eliminating 38 staff positions (including administrators, teachers, teacher aides, instructional coaches, custodians and other staff), replacing about 51 persons who are retiring with persons at lower salary levels, and making cuts in purchased services and supplies.
The tentative budget shows a surplus of $941,983 for the 2012-13 school year. The latest financial projections show operating surpluses of $1.5 million in 2013-14, $493,305 in 2014-15 and then deficits of $2.1 million for 2015-16 and $3.2 million for 2016-17.
One major unknown for the tentative budget is the salary expense. Teachers’ compensation is currently the subject of negotiation. For purposes of the tentative budget, Kathy Zalewski, controller, said the District assumed the salary rate structure for teachers (e.g., base salary, step increases, and track movements) would increase approximately 3.8% per year.
Another significant uncertainty is whether the state legislature will shift a part of teacher-pension costs to school districts.