The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Split U-46 board vote extends teacher contract
By Seth Hancock
The Elgin Teacher’s Association (ETA), School District U-46’s teacher’s union, was given a one-year contract extension but with some resistance after a 5-2 vote by the Board of Education on Monday, March 6.
The ETA approved the contract a week earlier and according to a district press release it “honors all current teacher compensation and benefits” with a “base salary increase of 0.94 percent with an average step increase of 3.1 percent.” It is good through Aug. 10, 2018.
Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voted no. At question was the contract’s sustainability and opposition to the “step” and “lane” schedule. A “step” refers to a teacher’s tenure, how many year’s they’ve worked, and “lane” refers to education attainment by seeking further degrees. There are 31 steps and 10 lanes in the structure.
“I believe it still unsustainably grows the cost of government,” Holt said before the vote. “The other reason I won’t be voting in favor of it is I don’t support the ‘step’ and ‘lane.’ I would like to see us move to more of a performance-based contract, one that would make us more competitive quite frankly.”
Jeff King, chief operations officer, said the total cost of the extension will be between $5 and $6 million, and “the unit agreed to drop an outstanding grievance between us and the bargaining unit that has been going on for about six or seven months.”
Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent, said the reason for a one-year extension rather than a long-term contract was “a need, perhaps, to have greater time to research some larger topics of interest” specifically work load, special education, safety and compensation.
“As we continue to face some fiscal uncertainty in the state of Illinois and the potential impact on that for school funding, it’s also certainly a consideration as we try to bargain up a longer contract,” Johnson added.
Phil Costello was the lone board member voting in favor to offer his reason for supporting the extension. He said he agreed with Holt’s reasons but “I don’t think we can do it this year.”
Costello called U-46 a “super structure” with both the district and unions being “so large.” He said that “in terms of adopting a posture of trying to get the most out of the best staff and making sure that they are recognized and compensated accordingly is my overall goal.”
The board’s majority (Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith) have all been endorsed by the district’s unions in current or past board elections.
The union leadership, including ETA president Richard Johnson, appeared unwilling to take any critical look at the contract as audible laughter came from them as both Holt and Ward voiced their no votes. Johnson was given a chance to speak after the extension was approved and called it a “fair and reasonable extension” and “the most important part about this whole thing is that we’re all going to go back to school. Kids will be back in school in August.”
The facts appear to give some weight to Holt’s concerns including that U-46 teachers are among the highest paid teachers in the state despite student outcomes consistently falling below the state average, the most current Illinois State Board of Education report card showing U-46 five points below the state average.
In 2016 U-46 teachers made $66,561 on average, compared to $63,450 for the state, and over the last 10 years they have received higher salaries than the state average every year except one, with an average of $3,781 more a year. There were 2,129 total teachers in U-46 in 2016 according to the report card compared to 2,062 in 2012 yet enrollment has dropped by 976 total students in that time, from 40,687 to 39,711.
The lowest starting U-46 teacher salary, at step one and lane one, is $42,805 in the structure while the highest, at step 31 and lane 10, is $104,556. According to data from the Illinois Department of Central Management and U.S. Census Bureau the average private sector worker in the state made $32,206.
In regards to seniority-based pay compared to merit-based, a policy paper titled “The narrowing gap in New York City teacher qualifications and its implications for student achievement in high poverty schools” published in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that a perverse incentive is given in seniority-based systems as student outcomes in a teachers class show little improvement after five years of works. The paper said “policies that enable school leaders to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher” should be sought which would better pay teachers based on their value rather than their seniority.
Smith called the pact a “fiscally responsible extension” after the vote was taken.
“While we move forward toward our conversations to address the areas of mutual interest … we appreciate the recognition that the conversation about what is best for students takes precedents over a date and a contract,” Smith said.
Also approved that evening, by unanimous vote, were Reduction in Force resolutions for 60 teachers and 147 education support personnel.