District 112 Teachers Rally Before Board Meeting
Around 150 Highland Park teachers gathered with signs in hand to protest the elementary and middle school district's proposed contract. Negotiations have not gone far, and a full-on strike may be imminent.
About 150 teachers rallied outside of District 112's office last Tuesday, shortly before a school board meeting where the contract negotiations between the teachers union and school board took center stage.
Holding signs that read "If you can read this, thank a teacher" and "Dedicated teacher working without a contract," the sizable crowd walked in circles along the southbound sidewalk of Green Bay Road, applauding when passing drivers honked in support.
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"We've been working without a contract," Northwood science teacher Todd Moddendorf said. "We're looking for a settlement."
The District 112 teachers' union declared an impasse in its contract negotiations with the school board two weeks ago, a decision that could lead to a teachers' strike by the middle of October.
The teachers' current contract expired Aug. 21. Since then, the North Shore Education Association (NSEA) — the teachers' union — has been meeting with the district's school board to negotiate a new contract. Even with the assistance of a federal mediator, the talks have not gone far.
Throughout the rally and during the board meeting, teachers expressed their frustration with a contract includes salary freezes and cuts to their health care packages.
"Everyone around us is getting decent raises," NSEA president Pamela Kramer said, referring to teachers in Deerfield and Lake Forest. "All we want is a raise."
One complaint that came up again and again was that, under the proposed contract, teachers would no longer receive 1.5 percent raises for completing graduate degree programs — even teachers like Debbie Wiggins, who completed a program advertised through the district.
"I'm in the hole $15,000 for completing this degree," Wiggins said. The Sherwood dual language second grade teacher has taught in Highland Park for 10 years. She got her masters degree in March through a program advertised by the district's personnel office.
"I had no idea that something signed, stamped and dated by the superintendent would not be honored," Wiggins said on Tuesday.
Under the district's most recent proposed contract, published last Friday, teachers would receive a 0.5 percent raise for each year graduate credits or degrees earned beginning 2014-15 or tuition reimbursement of $1,200 per year. According to Illinois Education Association director Mark Stein, however, teachers like Wiggins who already took courses might not receive anything if the current contract is passed.
"They'll say things like, 'We need to talk about the people already expecting a change,' and we say, 'Okay, what's your idea?' and we don't get any more than that," Stein said. "They say they shouldn't get the money."
During last week's board meeting, Wiggins shared her story with the school board, urging its members to reconsider the contract. The packed room gave her a standing ovation when she finished speaking.
Board presents financial information
Though the board did not discuss the current contract during last Tuesday's meeting, Mohsin Dada, the district’s chief financial officer, gave a presentation about the district's financial state.
See the presentation here.
Dada explained that during the three-year period covered by the last contract, teacher salaries rose by about 17 percent. Consumer Price Index (CPI), which dictates how much property tax revenues can rise, rose by 4.3 percent. By law, the district's revenue cannot exceed CPI.
"That is going to create a significant amount of pressure," Dada said.
Dada did not say what actions the board should, but seemed to suggest making unpopular cuts would be beneficial to the district's financial stability.
"The easiest thing for us to do in our administration is not do do anything," Dada said. "Just keep on writing checks and walk away from this place in a mess."
Dada indicated that if the board does not find ways to spend less money, eventually the district will drain its fund balance and will have to start laying people off.
"If we continue the course," Dada said, "we will lose very valuable employees, our services will be impacted."
In an interview with Patch Sunday night, Stein insisted that the district's perspective on its finances was unnecessarily bleak. He compared the board to members of the Tea Party, and said the board is trying to force teachers to take what will amount to a major paycut.
"They've been trying to convince people they're going broke for years," Stein said about the District. "That's politics, that's not reality."
Superintendent David Behlow acknowledged that negotiations were "not that close" at the last Tuesday's meeting, but expressed confidence that the board and teachers' union would find an equitable solution.
"It's easy to get emotional, frustrated and angry," Behlow said. "We have to keep in mind we are all working together."
See the teacher union's current proposal by clicking on the .pdf to the right, and the district's current contract proposal here.