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Stagnation hampers U-46, ETA union talks

By Seth Hancock
  Contract negotiations between School District U-46 and its teacher’s union, Elgin Teachers Association (ETA), continue to be contentious according to a Sept. 10 statement released by the ETA president, Barbara Bettis.
  The previous contract expired on Aug. 10, as teachers are still working under that contract after a three-year tentative agreement was voted down by the ETA membership in May.
  While pay raises under lane, based on educational attainment, from the previous contract are being honored, the Board of Education decided not to honor pay raises under step, based on tenure, until a new contract is negotiated according to a Sept. 7 statement released by U-46 CEO Tony Sanders. That decision was based on a change in state law according to Sanders who included a link to a fact sheet that stated this change could cost the district millions if the step increases were honored.
  “Since 2005 school districts have operated under a state law that requires excess salary payments to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) for any teacher raises that exceed 6 percent if that raise factored into the calculation for an individual member’s initial pension,” Sanders wrote. “On June 4, 2018, a new state law passed that lowered that threshold to 3 percent.”
  Bettis responded on Sept. 10: “At a time when our teachers would be moving on the salary schedule, we remained stagnant due to the decision to withhold step made by the Board of Education…. We stand with our members during these difficult times.”
  The ETA statement would go on to complain about Sanders negotiating publicly by making the Sept. 7 statement. However, the ETA first negotiated publicly as Sanders’ statement came a day after a Sept. 6 statement by Bettis regarding the negotiations.
  “We were perplexed to read CEO Tony Sanders weekly message, as it moved beyond our ETA and District leadership contract discussions,” Bettis wrote on Sept. 10. “We are curious as to why this has escalated, since ETA leadership has continued to make good faith efforts to remain in this process. This email raises concerns as to how we proceed with Interest Based Bargaining.”
  Bettis added: “We are disappointed that the District Administration has decided to release this ‘fact’ sheet without telling the entire story. We look forward to returning to the table with both sides bargaining in good faith. Bargaining outside of the process and in public is not helpful.”
  The ETA had been informed of the board’s decision regarding pay raises in August during closed door negotiations, according to Sanders.
  “I communicated the Board’s decision and rationale on August 7th to the ETA leadership who requested a follow up meeting,” Sanders wrote. “That meeting occurred on August 10 at which time the ETA leadership asked me to return to the Board with their request to provide step. After discussing with the Board, the reply back to the ETA on August 21 was that step would not be awarded pending a successor agreement. The Board will, of course, honor retroactively increases agreed to in a successor agreement.”
  According to the district’s fact sheet, the change in state law would cost U-46 at minimum $1.8 million in excess salary payments if step increases from the previous contract were honored, and those numbers could be even higher based on prior year numbers as the fact sheet stated 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.”
  The tentative agreement voted down in May was negotiated by the previous ETA leadership as Bettis was voted in as president in March. That agreement included increasing the starting salary for teachers from $42,805 to $50,000, “almost $23 million in additional compensation,” average 4 percent pay raises annually (up from 3.1 percent raises) and pay increases for “advanced education hours” and “longevity” according to the fact sheet.
  The district would not have been affected by the change in state law had that tentative agreement been approved in May according to an Aug. 1 press release from trsil.org which stated: “The 3 percent threshold applies only to raises and salaries paid to TRS members ‘under a contract or collective bargaining agreement entered into, amended, or renewed on or after’ June 4, 2018 for a school year that begins after July 1, 2018.”
  That TRS press release also stated: “For a few years, many school districts will have to use both thresholds.”
  According to TRS, in Fiscal Year 2017 there were 343 school district, 34.7 percent, in the state that paid excess salary payments totaling $3.3 million with an average district payment of $9,569.
  “In the 13 years that the law setting the excess salary payment threshold has been in effect, school district payments to TRS have declined,” according to the TRS. “The high was $7.5 million in payments recorded during Fiscal Year 2012.”





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