The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46, teachers union struggle with new pact
By Seth Hancock
Negotiations on a new contract between School District U-46 and the Elgin Teachers Association, the union representing U-46 teachers, are ongoing while there appears to be mounting contention.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders released a statement and a link to a fact sheet to offer a rationale for current decisions made by the Board of Education on Friday, Sept. 7. That statement came a day after Barbara Bettis, the ETA president, issued a statement regarding current negotiations.
The ETA, under its previous leadership, had reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract in May, but later that month the ETA membership voted against it. The ETA had been working under a one-year contract that expired on Aug. 10.
The tentative agreement that was denied by the ETA did include large salary increases including raising the starting salary for teachers over $7,000 from $42,805 to $50,000. It included “almost $23 million in additional compensation” according to the fact sheet as well as 4 percent pay raises annually (up from 3.1 percent raises) and pay increases for “advanced education hours” and “longevity.”
U-46 teachers continue to work under that one-year contract, but “the rate of pay on the salary schedule will remain unchanged until a successor agreement is reached,” Sanders wrote.
Pay raises for step, representing a teacher’s tenure, are not currently being added to paychecks but raises for lane, based on education attainment, are. Sanders said the step increases will be added “retroactively” once a new contract is approved.
The reason for holding off on the step increases is due to a state law that went into effect in June according to Sanders. The new law attempts to limit school districts from excessively increasing salaries in the final year of service which spike pensions under the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) by lowering the cap from the previous 6 percent to 3 percent.
Sanders said that the one-year contract included “65 cells that exceed the 3 percent cap, not including salary adjustments a teacher may receive for lane changes, coaching, overloads, or other work that results in compensation.”
If the pay raises from step under the previous one-year contract were given, there would be 549 teachers with a raise higher than  percent according to Sanders, and “if we look at our past experience of increases beyond step, the potential financial exposure is much higher.”
There would have been 994 teachers last year over 3 percent, some as high as 37 percent, which would have cost $10.2 million if the 3 percent law were in place according to Sanders.
The fact sheet stated that the district “would need to set aside between $7 million and $10 million annually in future years to cover excess salary payments under our current salary structure.”
“This is why the Board felt it necessary to withhold step until we have an agreement through collective negotiations,” Sanders wrote. “We believe there should be conversation grounded in our shared values and beliefs in determining how our funds can be used to support student learning, while honoring the work of teachers, in a manner that does not expend dollars paying what the public perceives as ‘penalties.’”
The administration told the ETA about the decision to withhold step increases in early August and again later in the month after going back to the board at the request of the ETA.
Bettis said in her Sept. 6 statement that the ETA was “disappointed” in that decision.
“We understand the challenges the new TRS 3 [percent] law… presents the school district,” Bettis wrote. “There is uncertainty in the amount of penalties that the district will incur as a result of this law. In addition, not getting step and waiting until we return to the table and agree upon a successor agreement creates a lot of uncertainty on our members. We are disappointed that the Board has chosen not to honor the entirety of The Elgin Agreement as has been done during previous bargains that expired without a successor agreement.”
Bettis added: “With a bargaining team in place, we are ready to get back to the table and get an agreement that brings certainty to our members. Our goal, as always is to bring a tentative agreement forward that works for our members, our students and our community.”
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