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New U-46 Board ratifies teachers union contract

By Seth Hancock
  The newly seated Board of Education in School District U-46 approved unanimously via a 7-0 vote, a contract running through the 2021-2022 school year with the teachers union, Elgin Teachers’ Association (ETA), at its meeting on Monday, May 6.
  One after the other, all seven board members echoed their full support of the contract including newly seated members Eva Porter and Kate Thommes who did not abstain despite not taking part in any of the board discussions on the contract. All said it represented all sides well which included the administration, teachers and students though not one referenced the taxpayers who will pay for the contract.
  The contract includes average salary increases of 3.85 percent (up from 3.1 percent raises) with a 16.8 percent jump in starting salary from $42,805 to $50,000 for the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers have been working without step increases, based on tenure, but will receive pay retroactively with this contract.
  An agreement on a contract had been reached last year but voted down by the ETA membership last May. That contract included “$23 million in additional compensation,” U-46 CEO Tony Sanders stated last fall, while this contract includes $30.6 million in added costs with a total projected cost of $831.4 million.
  The starting salary will increase each year ending at $51,260 in 2021-2022 while the highest salary achievable under the new contract is $106,875 in 2018-2019 and $109,568 in 2021-2022.
  The increases in 2018-2019 amount to a 4.95 percent raise ($9.3 million additional, $196.9 million total), in 2019-2020 it’s 3.8 percent ($7.5 million additional, $204.4 million total), in 2020-2021 it’s 3.66 percent ($7.5 million additional, $211.9 million total) and in 2021-2022 it’s 2.99 percent ($6.3 million additional, $218.2 million total).
  There are 20 steps and eight lanes, based on education attainment, with an “equal incremental salary schedule in which step and or lane are the same, there is no longer longevity language and we’ve also eliminated any places throughout the schedule where there was previously a zero increase,” said Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction.
  The lane increases no longer only pertain to additional college credit but also through professional credits given by the district based on committee work, professional learning committees and professional development.
  Teachers at the highest step and lane level are “eligible for a 403b match of up to 1.5 percent of their annual salary,” according to Dale Burnidge, director of financial operations. He said there will be increases “similar to the base increases to the salary schedule” for extra duty like coaching.
  U-46 will pick up 88 percent of health insurance costs, teachers 12 percent, in 2019-2020 which will go to an 85-15 split over the next two years.
  Johnson states there is added language regarding safety, including the creation of a Safety Council and a Tactical Assessment Team, as well as increased flexibility for parent-teacher conferences. She said U-46 wants to “make sure we are addressing and working to resolve” violence in the schools and is “working to secure community resources to support students, families and sites.”
  Former board member Jeanette Ward was a part of the negotiations but the board vote came after a special meeting the previous week to seat the new board. She spoke during public comments and suggested Porter and Thommes should recuse themselves.
  “Due to circumstances unforeseen to administration and the former board, regarding the timing of this year’s elections, it is unfortunate that this new board will be voting on this contract instead of the former board, who was involved in the negotiations,” Ward said.
  Porter and Thommes had expressed no problems with voting on the contract and freely admitted to their own conflicts of interests as former members of the teacher’s union. All seven board members have been endorsed by the ETA.
  “I was not a part of the process yet I was once a member of ETA and am now a present member of this board,” said Thommes who said it’s “an expression of the value of the hard work completed, the trust I have for both the union and the administration. A yes vote is a way to support all sides of this important process.”
  “I will vote yes on the ratification of the tentative agreement because I support the board, I support the teachers, I support the district, I support the students,” said Porter.
  John Devereux called it “a great balance,” Donna Smith called it a “good compromise” and Veronica Noland said she was “quite impressed” with the contract before voting yes.
  Board member Melissa Owens said “everyone’s pretty much expressed the same thing that I feel,” and the contract is deserving of “tribute.” Sue Kerr, the board’s president, said “I believe it continues to make us competitive in attracting teachers,” and it starts addressing safety and “the disruptions in the classroom and unacceptable behavior towards teachers and fellow students.”
  Ward said she would have voted against the contract and highlighted her concerns which include “significant raises not based on merit.”
  “Teachers need only be ‘satisfactory’ to receive these raises,” Ward said. “In fact, ‘when the salary of an unsatisfactory teacher at the last experience step is frozen, that teacher’s salary shall be frozen to an extent not greater than the amount of the normal increment in that salary lane.’ So unsatisfactory teachers still get some kind of increase.”
  Ward added: “It only requires new teachers to transition to paying 15 percent of the total cost of health insurance premiums, while veteran teachers transition later. For perspective, I work for a competitive private sector company and I pay 25 percent of the total cost of my health insurance premiums. Finally, this contact includes lump sum payments after retirement of up to $10,000.”
  The contract is similar to other contracts in Illinois school districts Ward said, but all of them are unsustainable.
  “I will grant that the contract does compensate and encourage desired teacher behaviors,” Ward said. “But this, and those contracts are far out of line with the private sector and are not sustainable in Illinois as a whole.”
  Former board member Phil Costello, who was also involved in the negotiations, told The Examiner he would have opposed the contract.
  “Unfortunately for the larger community, this new Elgin Teachers Union contract represents the age-old fallacy that relies on union protection to manage professional staff,” Costello said. “As a former Board of Education member, I would not have supported such a benign instrument that commits almost one billion dollars of taxpayer funds to simply maintain a teacher workforce.”
  Costello said the contract undermines the accountability, performance and recognition of teachers.
  “Our teachers are professionals that create, manage and assess the development of our children and progress therein,” Costello said. “The teachers that I have met are quite capable and enthusiastic in their passion to achieve excellence in their classrooms. They should not be merely homogenized as a commodity.”
  Costello added: “The value and impact of our teacher’s planning, delivery and outcomes is imperative to the student growth yet historic failed arguments remain that teachers cannot and should not be evaluated. While our district’s administrative bargaining team was well-prepared and diligent in negotiating with multiple teams of union representatives, this contract merely acquiesced to status quo employment that did not improve our system of public education.”




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