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The District 65 School Board and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) have entered into a three-year contract, covering this and next two school years. Members of DEC ratified the contract on Dec. 2, with 85% of the members who voted, voting in favor of the contract. The School Board approved the contract by a 6-0 vote on Dec. 5.
The parties started negotiating in February and held 15 negotiating sessions through August. They agreed in September to use a federal mediator, and the federal mediator facilitated 10 sessions, including more than 34 hours of marathon sessions in the last several days, which resulted in a tentative agreement at approximately 4 a.m. on Nov. 21.
DEC kept the pressure on the School Board with the threat of a strike. On Oct. 26, DEC initiated the timeline for a strike, and had jumped through the necessary hoops to begin a strike as early as Nov. 29.
At the District 65 School Board meeting, Candance Chow, President of the School Board said, “The Board enthusiastically supports the agreement we reached with DEC and we believe it honors the needs of our expert teachers and enables us to nurture educational practices, which is critical to our teachers and also responds to our financial reality.”
Superintendent Paul Goren said, “We made significant progress on professional time, on collaboration and professional learning, and on our financial condition.
“The contract responds to the financial uncertainties that are facing the District,” said Dr. Goren. “I want to tip my hat to DEC membership, DEC leadership, and to our teachers across the District, because in the give-and-take in the negotiations this was something we had to work on and to pay attention to – our financial constraints – and our colleagues have really responded in ways that are admirable.”
DEC President Paula Zelinski said, “Working conditions were very important to our teachers, and we really appreciate the fact that the administrators and the Board heard that teachers were looking for more time to collaborate with their teammates and to be able to address many of the issues that our kids face.
“On behalf of teachers, we are very pleased the contract passed at 85%, which is really an outstanding number.”
Teacher Planning Time
The contract provides additional time for teachers to plan and collaborate with other teachers, and to engage in professional learning with other teachers. The contract also cuts back on some types of meetings.
Some key aspects of the contract that improve teacher planning time and working conditions are:
• All staff meetings will be scheduled September through May and may not exceed 75 minutes. Only one staff meeting will be held in months when parent-teacher conferences are held.
• K-5 classroom teachers will receive a fifth day of planning time, which will result in additional enrichment opportunities for students (to be determined by the District).
• Special education staff will receive an additional ten minutes of planning time each day. This increases their daily planning time from 30 minutes to 40 minutes.
• A .5 contact period will be eliminated in the middle schools, so teachers will have this time to focus on their responsibilities.
“The ability of teachers to be more available to meet with their teams benefits the children and classrooms of Evanston/Skokie,” Ms. Zelinski told the RoundTable. “Research tells us that teams allow for better instructional coordination and integration while providing peer learning opportunities and continuous improvement.
“Not only will our K-5 teachers receive planning time on a 5th day of each week, we believe that the new contract language will allow for increased opportunities for teachers who provide special education and related services, as well as Reading Interventionists and English Language teachers, to interact and plan with general education teachers. At the middle school level, there will also be greater opportunities for teachers to plan effectively and target the needs of our diverse population.”
The cost of making these changes is significant. District administrators told the RoundTable the District will need to hire 19 additional teachers to implement the changes.
An individual teacher’s salary may increase in four ways: an increase in base salary, which is in the nature of a cost of living increase; a “step” increase, which is an increase based on years of experience or service; a “track” increase, which is based on a combination of criteria including continuing education, participation on school or District committees, or leadership projects during the contract term; and a bonus, which is a payment to a teacher but which does not increase the base salary, so it does not have a compounding impact in future years.
The terms of the new contract are:
• FY’17 (the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017) – There is no increase in the base salary of teachers. Eligible teachers will receive a step increase starting in January, so it is a 50% step increase for the year. Teachers who are at the top step (22 years of experience) and who no longer receive step increases, will receive a 1.2% lump sum payment. A step increase may range from 0.9% to 4.8% of salary, depending on the years of service. The average step increase is 2%, said the District.
• FY’18 – All teachers will receive an increase of 0.5% in base salary. Teachers who are eligible will receive a step increase. Teachers who are at the top step will receive a 1.5% lump sum payment.
• FY’19 – Teachers will receive an increase in base salary equal to 50% of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), with a minimum increase of 1.25% and a maximum of 2.5%. If a referendum passes on April 1 (see page 1), teachers will receive an increase to base salary equal to 75% of the CPI, with a minimum of 1.75% and a maximum of 3.25%. Eligible teachers will also receive a step increase.
• Teachers will also be eligible for “track” movement at any time during the contract. Track movement increases range from 5% to 15%, depending on the step and track of a teacher. The average track movement results in a 7% increase in salary. During the last four-year contract, 45% of teachers earned a track movement.
In FY’16, the average teacher salary in District 65 salary was $78,906, or 24% higher than the Statewide average of $63,450. Dr. Goren told the RoundTable that the average salary in peer districts with similar student demographics and budgets was $76,165; and the starting salaries in District 65 are in the top 10% statewide.
Under the new contract, a teacher earning the average salary will receive a total cumulative salary increase of 9.1% over the three years of the contract if they did not move a track, and if they moved up a track, the average salary increase would be 16.4%, District administrators told the RoundTable. If a referendum passes, the amounts would be higher.
At the end of the contract, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience will be $47,989; the average teacher salary is estimated at $84,710; and the highest salary will be $108,455 (which is attainable for teachers with 22 years experience).
Dr. Goren highlighted that the increase in base salary in the third year of the contract is tied to the CPI. Under State tax caps, District 65 may raise property taxes by the amount of the CPI or 5%, whichever is less.
“This is a very important aspect of the agreement,” said Dr. Goren, “because it actually helps us tie the base increase raises to the revenue that we have coming in that’s limited to the Consumer Price Index.”
The contract loosens the stated criteria that must be met for teachers to move up a track. The stated criteria previously required teachers to receive two or three summative ratings of “excellent” in the last three or four evaluation periods. District administrators told the RoundTable that this requirement was eliminated, but teachers who receive a summative rating of “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” will not be eligible to apply for track movement until they achieve a minimum rating of “proficient.” In some prior school years, 97% of all teachers were rated proficient.
The compensation package agreed to in the new contract reduces the District’s salary expense by $5,624,674 from the salary expense projected in September for the three fiscal years covered by the contract, District 65 administrators told the RoundTable.
These compensation savings, however, were offset in part by the need to hire 19 new teachers to provide a fifth day of planning for K-5 teachers and to eliminate a .5 contact period for middle school teachers. The estimated cost of the new teachers is $1,520,000, starting in FY’18 and continuing in subsequent years.
The table below gives the breakdown of the savings resulting from the compensation package and the added costs of new teachers ($ in 000s):
Compensation Cost of New Net Savings
FY’17 1,403 -0- 1,403
FY’18 1,790 1,520 270
FY’19 2,431 1,520 911
“Given the significant financial challenges on the horizon, this agreement is an important first step in coming together to protect the working and learning conditions in District 65, said Dr. Goren. “Our teachers play a tremendous role in the lives of our children and we must do everything we can to support them in this important work. I would like to recognize all of the dedicated educators who have made their home in District 65 and thank them for all that they do both in and outside of the classroom in support of our children.”
Importance of Team Meetings for Professional Development
Providing time for teachers to meet on a regular basis for the purposes of learning, joint lesson planning, and problem solving is a key part of professional development, according to a report, “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession” (2009) prepared by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University.
The report says, “Improving professional learning for educators is a crucial step in transforming schools and improving academic achievement. … As students are expected to learn more complex and analytical skills in preparation for further education and work in the 21st century, teachers must learn to teach in ways that develop higher order thinking and performance. … Efforts to improve student achievement can succeed only by building the capacity of teachers to improve their instructional practice and the capacity of school systems to advance teacher learning.
“The most powerful forms of staff development occur in ongoing teams that meet on a regular basis, preferably several times a week, for the purposes of learning, joint lesson planning, and problem solving,” says the NSDC Report. “Many scholars have begun to place greater emphasis on job-embedded and collaborative teacher learning.”
The District’s Strategic Plan adopted in 2015 calls for enhancing professional learning communities in the schools, which “provide adult learners a space to develop and share skills and knowledge for innovation.”