The tentative four-year agreement reached between the District 65 School Board and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) on Aug. 27 has been finally approved. Members of DEC ratified the contract on Sept. 7 in a secret ballot with 83% of the members voting in favor of the contract. The School Board unanimously approved the contract on Sept. 10.

The parties negotiated over six months before reaching an agreement. A federal mediator facilitated the last five sessions that took place in August.

The new agreement provides lower increases in the base salary of teachers than in prior years, but there are still significant increases in compensation for teachers individually when step and possibly track increases are taken into account. The overall impact on the District’s financial picture for the next four years is improved.

School Board president Katie Bailey and DEC president Jean Luft each thanked both negotiating teams for the time, energy and effort they put forth in reaching the deal. Ms. Bailey and Board vice-president Andy Pigozzi served as the Board members on the District’s negotiating team.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “I’m very pleased that we successfully started this school year with a new teachers’ contract. …The contract that we negotiated with our teachers allows us to pursue the meaningful and rigorous goals established by the Board for our students.”

Increases in Compensation

Under the four-year contract teachers will receive a bonus equal to 1.5% of salary (2% for those who do not receive a step increase) in 2012-13, a 1.5% increase in base salary in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, and an increase of 1.75% in base salary in 2015-16.

In addition to the increases in base salary, most teachers will continue to receive a “step” increase each year, which is an increase in salary based on years of experience.

They will also continue to receive a bump in salary if they move up a “track.” There are five tracks, and a teacher may apply to move up a track every three or four years and must demonstrate he or she meets certain criteria which may include obtaining an advanced degree, completing continuing education courses, and demonstrating leadership. Teacher appraisals are also a factor. Historically, about 70 teachers have moved up a track each year, but there have been variations, Pat Markham, director of communications, told the RoundTable.

According to the salary schedules, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience was $44,990 last year and it grows to $47,161 in 2015-16, a 4.8% increase. The salary for teachers with 21 years experience and who are in the highest track, Track V, was $101,676 last year and it grows to $106,583 in 2015-16, also a 4.8% increase.

When step increases and track movements are taken into account, the increase in a teacher’s compensation is significantly greater. For example, a teacher who had five years experience and was in Track II had a salary of $55,787 in 2011-12. Under the new contract that teacher’s salary in 2015-16 will be $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.

In a prepared statement, District 65 said, “The terms also include modest increases in teacher health insurance contributions.”

Dr. Murphy said the contract terms will enable the District to remain competitive with other Districts and attract new teachers. “We wanted to be sure that what we were doing with our teachers would keep us competitive with other districts in the area,” he said. “We looked at planning time, length of school day, salary, benefits and much more.”

Improved Learning and Working Environment

“The new contract agreement improves several areas of the District 65 learning and working environment and also provides avenues for making future improvements in additional areas,” said Ms. Luft.

Reducing teachers’ workloads is “definitely the biggest one” Ms. Luft told the RoundTable. The contract reduces the maximum “classroom pupil time” per week from 1,490 minutes to 1,462 minutes, with the exception of early childhood education teachers, she said. This increases the amount of time that teachers will have available for planning and/or collaboration, she said.

In the past few years, many teachers have told School 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.

Ms. Luft said another change is that a Joint Committee on Special Education and Inclusion would be reestablished. This committee will consist of DEC members and administrators and provide a vehicle for teachers to provide feed-back on issues relating to special education and inclusion, to look at moving forward in different ways and to resolve issues, said Ms. Luft.

In addition, as part of the agreement, the District has provided DEC a “side-letter” agreeing to establish a task force composed of five DEC members and five administrators that will explore the feasibility of establishing five days of fine arts at grades K-5 in District 65. The task force will be led by a facilitator and make its recommendations in February. The current contract calls for four days of 47 minute classes of fine arts per week, said Ms. Luft.

Additional changes include incorporating the “civil union” law into the contract, and providing that a study will be conducted about the feasibility of air conditioning all classrooms.

Impact on Future Budgets

While individual teachers will see significant increases in salary due primarily to step and possibly track increases, the increase in the District’s overall salary expense will be less, because, while many teachers move up the ranks and earn step or track increases, new teachers are continually being hired at lower step and track levels.

In the past year, District 65 has assumed in making its financial projections that, on an overall basis, teacher compensation (including base salary and step, but not track movement) would increase annually at the rate of 3.8%. Dr. Murphy told the RoundTable that the overall rate under the new four-year contract would be lower than 3.8%, which improves the District’s ability to balance the budget

Dr. Murphy said the four-year contract “allows us to manage a budget that is employee sensitive and preserves programs and services that our community values.” If the District’s current assumptions hold, he said, he thought the District could balance the budget for the next four years without resorting to layoffs of employees as a deficit reduction strategy.

A big unknown is whether the State will shift teacher pension costs to the school districts.

“We looked at preserving the things that parents in our community value as part of the District 65 educational experience,” said Dr. Murphy. “Katie Bailey and Andy Pigozzi were tireless advocates for that position.”

Ms. Luft said, “The District 65 teachers are eager to continue the long tradition of high quality instruction in the Evanston Skokie community.”