On June 10, the District 65 School Board unanimously approved collective bargaining agreements with the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) and the Evanston Teacher Assistant Association (ETAA). Each contract runs for five years.

Immediately after the vote, Board President Suni Kartha said, “If I could take just a moment to celebrate.” District administrators and most everyone else in the Board room applauded.

The negotiations were “really intense, sometimes contentious, but always a collaborative process,” said Ms. Kartha. 

The Contract with DEC, the Teachers Union

 Superintendent Paul Goren said District 65 and DEC engaged in “what’s called interest-based bargaining, which means we were actually talking to each other about the issues that so concern us in the District, really working through a collaborative process rather than a positional or oppositional process. And we did this over months.”

The interest based bargaining was “facilitated by federal mediators, to come together around shared interests and to creatively problem solve issues that both teams believed to be important. In addition, the process was modified to include the use of the Racial Equity Impact Assessment tool,” said a joint statement issued by Dr. Goren, Ms. Kartha and DEC President Meg Krulee.

Dr. Goren said, as a result of this method of bargaining, “we’ve established the type of collaborative relationships that are going to be absolutely necessary as we go through the next five years.”

The teams participated in approximately 26 bargaining sessions and discussed a range of issues related to compensation and working conditions – including planning time, team meetings, safety issues, professional learning, leaves of absence, insurance, stipends, and salary, said the joint statement.

On May 24, a tentative agreement was reached by the District and DEC, and it was approved by the DEC membership, with a 98% vote, on June 4. The School Board unanimously approved the contract on June 10.

“The contract honors the hard work of our educators with a focus on learning conditions for students and working conditions for DEC members. As a result, we believe the contract will allow District 65 to attract and retain the best and brightest educators for our students,” said the joint statement.

DEC’s Compensation Package

 Under the contract with DEC, an individual teacher’s salary may increase in three ways: 1) an increase in base salary, which is in the nature of a cost of living increase; 2) a “step” increase, which is an increase based on years of experience or service; and 3) 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. 

First, the contract ties the increase in a teacher’s base salary to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). One rationale for doing this is that approximately 80% of the District’s operating revenues are from property taxes, which are subject to tax caps. The tax caps limit the District’s ability to increase property taxes to the lessor of 5% or the CPI. In order to more closely align the increase in base salary expenses with the increase in the District’s primary source of revenues, the contract connects the increase in base salary to the CPI –with a minimum and maximum increase in three of the years. The base salary increases under the contract are:

• FY’20 base increase of 2.1% (CPI)

• FY’21 base increase of 1.9% (CPI)

• FY’22 100% of CPI, with a minimum of 1.75% and a maximum of 2.5%

• FY’23 100% of CPI, with a minimum of 1.5% and a maximum of 2.5%

• FY’24 100% of CPI, with a minimum of 1.5% and a maximum of 2.65%

Second, each year DEC members, who are eligible, move up one “step” on the salary schedule. While the salary schedules for the new contract have not yet been made public, a movement from step 6 to step 7 for a teacher in Track II amounts to a 5% increase in base salary under the current contract. 

Third, DEC members who earn a “track” movement also obtain an increase on the salary schedule. While the salary schedules for the new contract have not yet been made public, a movement from Track I to Track II for a teacher in step 7 amounts to an increase of  11% in base salary under the current contract. There is a waiting period between  track movements.

In addition, the portion of health insurance costs paid by the District for teachers will increase from 75% to 80% of the overall cost over the length of the contract, which is in alignment with neighboring districts, says the joint statement.

The five-year contract will provide the District and teachers with certainty and stability for the next five years, says the joint statement.

“We’re going to have to think about the structure of the District and we’re going to have to think about some of the finances we will potentially hit bumps on – we will hit bumps on,” said Dr. Goren. “Creating the collaborative relationships that we’ve done through this process sets us up for a bright future and sets us up to really do the right thing for children.”

The Contract with ETAA

The contract with ETAA “signals the District’s commitment to our paraprofessionals and recognizes the important role they play in cultivating our students’ academic and social emotional needs as well as supporting our special education and general education classrooms. In addition, we were able to come to an agreement that will not only help paraprofessionals but will most of all help us to better meet the needs of children in District 65,” said a joint statement issued by Dr. Goren, Ms. Kartha, and ETAA President Dawn Jackson.

The District and ETAA also engaged in interest based bargaining. The Board’s bargaining team acknowledged that paraprofessionals in District 65 were underpaid compared to peer districts, said the joint statement.

The bargaining teams held 16 bargaining sessions and reached a tentative agreement on May 15 which was later ratified by the ETAA membership, with 100% approval by voting members.

ETAA members will receive a 6% base salary increase in each year of the five-year contract. In addition, with some exceptions, all returning paraprofessionals will receive a “step” increase in the salary schedule each year.

Eligible ETAA members, who cannot advance a step because they are at the end of the salary schedule, will receive a “top step” lump sum bonus calculated according to a formula in the contract.

The RoundTable asked the District for copies of the contracts reached with DEC and ETAA and the salary schedules. The District advised that the contracts were not yet in final form, but would be posted on the District’s website in July.

In April 2017, voters approved a Referendum which provided School District 65 an additional $14.5 million in funding for operations each calendar year. Under the Referendum Plan, the District plans to set aside surpluses generated in FY’18 through FY’21 in a Referendum Reserve, and to use the amounts set aside to balance projected operating deficits in FY’22 to FY’25. The commitment made during the months preceding the Referendum was to balance the District’s budgets for eight years, through FY’25.

At the School District 65 Finance Committee meeting on Feb. 11, 2019, Kathy Zalewski, Business Manager, presented financial projections for the District’s next six fiscal years. While the projections rest on many assumptions, they showed the District was on track to balancing its budget through the next six fiscal years ending June 30, 2025 (FY’25), and to have a surplus of about $9.4 million at that time – which could go toward reducing a potential deficit in FY’26.

The District has not yet issued projections for FY’26, but if the trend shown in the February 2019 projections continues, the operating deficit in FY’26 would be about $12.7 million, and there would be about $9.4 million left in the Referendum Reserve to go toward balancing that deficit. There would be nothing left to cover operating deficits in subsequent years.

In preparing the February 2019 projections, Ms. Zalewski said she assumed that total salaries would increase by 3% each year. The base salary increases of teacher’s salaries under the new contract are lower than 3% each year, and in the first two years are 2.1% and 1.9%.

Whether total salary expenses go up or down, however,  also depends on step and track increases. In general terms, if the overall workforce has a higher number of teachers in higher steps and tracks than in the prior year, it would operate to increase total salary costs. Conversely, if there were more teachers in lower steps and tracks than in a prior year, it would operate to pull down total salary costs. 

The RoundTable asked the District how the new contracts with DEC and ETAA would impact the projections of total salary and total benefit expenses in the District’s February 2019 projections. The District said the contract with DEC will add approximately $698,000 in total salary/benefit expenditures over the five years, than were projected in February 2019; and the contract with ETAA will add approximately $534,000 in total salary expenditures over five years, than were projected in February 2019.