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The Facts Behind District 112 Contract Negotiations

A skeptical reader tackles everything about the strained negotiations between Highland Park's elementary and middle school teachers and the school board, from property taxes to salary increases.

I would like to spend some time here listing facts regarding the current District 112 contract negotiations and other issues in the district.

First, some editorial: I do not trust any of the numbers being presented by the district or the union in public statements. I know it is usual practice for both sides in this type of situation to spin things, but I still find it frustrating. What is presented is probably accurate, but not the whole story. This is a prime example of the old adage, “You can make the numbers sing any way you want.”

Note that you can do this without actually lying. 

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Taxes: There is a lot of comment in public and the Patch about property taxes.  Everyone should know that whatever happens, it will not impact your taxes.  Since the tax cap was imposed all districts, except in special situations, raise taxes as much as the law allows. The amount collected will be the increased by the inflation rate plus an added amount based on new construction. We are all aware that there has been very little new construction in the recent past and no one is forecasting a huge increase. The new building that is proposed for the area next to the Highland Park Theatre will have tax incentives to help fund the building. This will not provide revenue to the schools for at least a decade. The increases in the past from the building at Ft. Sheridan, the 600-some condos built in the past 20 years, and the huge number of tear-downs are not going to be duplicated. Therefore, we are left with the rate of inflation.

Slices of the pie: If the amount of tax revenue is known and predictable, then there is a fixed pie for all expenses to be drawn from. The more that we pay one group, the less money is available for other uses. I do not make a judgment on what the proper spending proportions should be, because I do not have enough information to make a reasoned opinion.  

Average salary increases: The salary of the average existing teacher can go up a certain percentage but the aggregate average salary will not go up by that amount. This is due to the retirement of long-term and therefore higher-paid teachers that are replaced by new teachers at the starting salary. We need to make sure that we know which number we are talking about.

Things that will not go away: 

  • Tenure – It does not matter whether you like it or not; it is here to stay.  Please stop wasting space complaining about it.
  • Unions – District 112 has a union, as does almost every other district in the state.  There is no incentive for getting rid of it and they can provide significant value in the management of a district.  While District 113 (Deerfield and Highland Park high schools) does not have a union, the district has found it useful to meet with teachers that help represent the teachers’ needs that the district might not be aware of otherwise.  The union is not going away, deal with it.  

Consolidation: There has been much discussion about the consolidation of schools as a way to save money. It is true that if a school has many more students at a given grade level, statistically you will end up with fewer sections and therefore fewer teachers. Since we have actual data, I have been very surprised that the district has not told us how much would be saved. I suspect this is because it would save far less money than has been implied.

There are huge ramifications to consolidation.

First, we currently have about the right number of classrooms. To close down a school you would need to build new schools or to double the size of an existing campus. This costs money.

Second, we like our neighborhood schools. Even if you do not have kids in the school, having it near your house impacts your property values. This is the political buzz saw that we ran into in the 90’s when this last came up.  I am not saying that we should not do it, but it will be tough.  

Third, fewer and bigger schools will require  much more busing.  This costs money.  State law was and may still require the district to provide free busing to students that are more than 1.5 miles from school.  Kids will also be spending more time on the bus. This also applies if you group by grade level.

Fourth, you never save as much money on staff as you think.  We do have one larger elementary school and can make estimates based on that.  We can also look at other districts and get the numbers.  There is actual information available, why hasn’t the district done and presented the analysis?  

Fifth, there can be a case made for the superiority of a 300-person school vs. a 600-person school.  A smaller, more intimate school might be better.  You can also make the case as to why the larger school might be better.  Let’s do that analysis, not guess.  

In their comments, I would encourage people to add facts to this list and I hope that people fact-check me. Let’s get as close as possible to a common set of facts that can be used as a springboard for intelligent discussion.  The district has a lot to deal with in the next several years.  We have the current possible strike.  The issue here is not just the possible strike, but the lack of trust that the parties have for each other.  Trust is important to have an effective district.  We have the on-going and huge financial problems that have been created by mistakes made over the years.  Lastly, we have an old and tired asset base (schools) and infrastructure needing to be replaced or updated. 

This will require a referendum. For a referendum to succeed, trust must be restored.  

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llwvrt October 03, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Nicely stated. Thank you Richard.
Bill October 03, 2012 at 01:48 PM
My question would be to the 'would be' teacher salary haters is have you looked at what the average salary of all the school's administration is? I think you would be outraged as I am finding this out. I find it funny that the man saying that they district is broke (Mr. M. Dada) costs the district $203,000 a year on top of him already receiving a over $200,000 year pension. He also gets over $20,000 for family insurance that he does not pay for...The superintendent of the NSSD 112 costs the district over $300,000 a year, which includes fun things like $35,000+ bonuses, $5,000+ mileage reimbursements, annuity payments of over $40,000....This is only 2 people and you are already over half a million dollars. Think of how many teachers you can get for that? It also bugs me that they state that teacher raises are too much. Well, what is not said is that in order for a teacher to change lanes, they have to take additional college coursework (on top of their Master's degrees mind you) which costs them money and not to mention, time. They do this because the district mandates this, yet they don't want to pay them more for their gained experience and knowledge. It is akin to being required to get a college degree while having cashiers job, but you will only get paid minimum wage after. Now yes, teachers do make a comfortable amount later in their carreer, but would you want someone who does not value their career teaching your kids? Probably not.
Richard H Heineman Jr October 03, 2012 at 02:18 PM
It is certainly true that our administrators make a lot of money. Let me remind you that they are running a very large business. If this were a public company of this size I believe that the pay would be even more. From experience this public company would have a much larger proportion of people that were not actually making things. I use this term as a proxy for our teachers. They make something every day, which are educated students. I would be very interested to see an analysis of the budgets for the districts that surround us. What is the proportion of the budget that is for compensation, both salary and benefits. Then I would like to see administration broken out with specific lines separating administrative office vs. in school administration. The objective of my post was to begin to look at the issues in front of us in context. If someone has or is willing to do this actual analysis please provide it.
John Russillo October 03, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Oustanding. Separate fact from fiction. There is too much of the latter in most contract negotiations. Also, people need to stop complaining about organized labor. It's not going away. Learn to work with the union and not against it.
David R. October 03, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Richard, Thanks for the information. Your piece correctly suggests that this really boils down to how the limited resources are sliced. I think any analysis would show that the teachers' wages and benefits are becoming a greater share of the pie every year. As a result, less money is available for to maintain the facilities and for other programs, as evidenced by the layoffs last year. The terms that the teachers are insisting on right now will only compound this trend, which from this 112 parent's perspecive, is troubling. The teachers' bargaining position also fails take into account that the state is inevitably going to transfer some portion of the pension costs to the district. While this is probably a fair thing for the state to do, it is going to put incredible financial pressure on our district and result in compensation costs being even a greater share of the pie. The BOE is correctly preparing for this day of reckoning on the pension issue.
John Russillo October 03, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Question for Mark Stein. In all the negotiations you've been involved in, how many of them include the district sitting down with the teachers and going through the financials in a detailed manner? If the district is strapped for cash, I would assume they would be agreeable to opening up the books, sitting down with union leadership, and trying to solve the financial problem together. Does that ever happen and if not, why not? I would think if the teachers can understand the problem and trust the data, they would be more agreeable to making concessions.
W.S. October 03, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Thanks for putting together this fair opinion piece.
Richard H Heineman Jr October 03, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I agree that it would be a major problem to have the pension costs passed on to the school districts. I personally think that we already have too much of the tax burden coming from property taxes. That being said an option for the state is to allow the property tax levy to increase beyond the current cap to allow for the increased expenses. We should challenge the people running for state House and Senate to push this. Putting school districts into bankruptcy is not a good strategy for the state.
Mark Stein October 03, 2012 at 04:32 PM
We have people who analyze school district finances. They do an analysis based on the actual revenues and expenditures and create a model. The model can be used to make future projections. One of the reasons that the teachers at Lake Forest High School accepted a one year wage freeze last year was that our analysis showed that the District did have a short term problem. Just before Deerfield ran its referendum, our research people did an analysis that showed that a financial problem was developing. The difference was that they projected a problem in seven years. They didn't agree that the District would be broke the next year. Nonetheless, it was certainly prudent to run the referendum. We always share our analysis with the Board team. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes it doesn't. If you think back, you will realize that many school districts suddenly discover that they are in a financial crisis when their teacher contract happens to be expiring.
David R. October 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Mark, I'd be interested to know what the union's analysis shows with respect to how much the raises that the union is seeking will increase the average teacher's pension over that teacher's expected lifetime (accounting for the COLA that the teachers will receive as part of their pensions) versus the increase in the average pension that will result from the much smaller raises that the BOE is offering. Thanks in advance for your response.
Dan Jenks October 03, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Richard, you have made some excellent points and raised some questions that should be analyzed. I would also say that, while I disagree at times with the administrators, teachers and the BOE, I think everyone involved means well and has legitimate concerns that need to addressed.
Dan Jenks October 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM
More specifically, with respect to the negotiation between D112 and the NSEA, I’m hopeful that a negotiated solution (w/o a strike) can be found as I think both parties can generally agree on certain principles. A future contract will embody the following principles: 1. Total compensation costs in D112 cannot indefinitely grow at a rate faster than the CPI and new construction percentage. Therefore, at some point, either (a) future cumulative pay increases must be limited by this percentage or (b) teacher/administrator layoffs must occur. 2. Teachers deserve annual pay raises that both (a) keep up with inflation and (b) include increases based on merit and seniority. 3. We want teachers who are motivated to continue their education and improve their teaching skills. Some form of meaningful reward for additional coursework should be included. 4. Ideally, overall compensation levels should be in line with neighboring districts – but this principle may have to yield to Principle #1. 5. Rising health care costs will have to be increasingly shared with the teachers (similar to what is going on in the private sector) and should be included in total compensation expenses when analyzing cost sharing. 6. D112 must continue to maintain sufficient fund balances. At some level, I think all of these principles have been agreed to by both parties – now it is just a question of “Getting To Yes”.
NS October 03, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Hi, Mark, May I ask who paid for the school district finances to be analyzed? Thanks.
David Greenberg October 03, 2012 at 05:31 PM
1) I agree. 2) They don't DESERVE any raise unless their performance merits consideration for a raise. The raises should come out of a fixed pool of money set aside for raises. Everyone who is considered may or may not get a raise depending upon how much money remains in the pool - obviously the highest raises go to those performing the best. The performance ratings should be achievable and fair. I realize this is a difficult item to measure, but it's going to be required under State law, and there's several models that have been proposed. D113 is currently working on implementing one that could be useful. 3) Yep. And IF they complete their degree(s), they should receive additional weighting toward consideration for a raise, if their performance warrants it. 4) This I have to disagree with. Trying to "keep up with the Jones'" only leads to an Educational Arms Race with salaries/benefits that only spiral upward. Which tends to feed upon itself because then other Districts say "oh, we need to have parity! And when they raise their salaries, someone in our District complains and says "we need parity!""... and so on... 5) I agree 6) I agree.
Mark Stein October 03, 2012 at 05:31 PM
That's a service that IEA's research department provides to its locals. I'm sure that this will set off the people who will say that means that its inherently biased. That's not the case, but I'm not going to debate that.
David Greenberg October 03, 2012 at 05:36 PM
With regard to the Union - I'd like to know just what value the Union brings to US, the taxpayers. What do they do that helps the teachers work more effectively and efficiently so they can provide a better education to our children? How much money do they save us? What professional development do they provide to their members that non-members are unable to receive? How does that professional development contribute to the better education of our children, and does it save us or cost us money? If so, how much? Finally, why should we, as taxpayers, and parents, allow our children to be weaponized in this battle with the School District? The threat of striking doesn't make me sympathetic to the teachers at all - in fact, it strengthens my resolve to simply hire non-union replacements the minute they go on strike. Trust is a two-way street: You want to negotiate, fine. We'll talk. We'll figure something out. Both sides may not be happy, but might be able to live with it. But go on strike to force the issue and get your way? Sorry, there's zero trust there. Just as we don't negotiate with terrorists, neither should we negotiate with persons who use our children as weapons to get what they demand through a strike.
Mark Stein October 03, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Since the Board doesn't pay the pension, it hasn't figured in anyone's calculations. If some, or all, pension costs are shifted to local districts, it will have to be considered in the future. All bargaining takes place within the context of current and projected revenue. If the revenue isn't there, school districts can't raise taxes more than the cap. Even though this district has laid people off, it has still been adding to its overall fund balances.
David Greenberg October 03, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Sure it could be biased (bias is a difficult thing to remove from any analysis), but so long as they cite their sources and explain their methodology so others can verify their results that goes a long way toward allaying fears of bias. And if there is any bias that they run across, and they note it - that helps too.
Richard H Heineman Jr October 03, 2012 at 05:48 PM
David: I understand that you do not like hat we have a union. I also know that you are not alone in this. BUT, we have one and it is not going away. Can we please deal with real local issues and not get into philosophical discussions. Let's try to have at least this one discussion about facts and information that we can use to move the process forward.
Chnaridr October 03, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Although I realize that they are different entities but if we have a shortfall for district 112 how can we afford a $3.9 beach exapansion for Rosewood Beach. I am a huge lover of the beach and certainly welcome improvements but if my children and/or their teachers suffer I am willing to forgo an expensive beach expansion. Last year parents were griping about a similar budget cut and should have seen this possible strike coming when the city approved this exapnsion. If you ask me, I invest in education and if there is money left over to improve our beaches so be it, not the other way around
Richard H Heineman Jr October 03, 2012 at 05:58 PM
It would not be legal for the HP Park Dist to give money to 112 even if they wanted to. Let's stick to the topic
Walter White October 03, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Now unions are terrorists? Oh brother, when will this Tea Party nonsense stop?
Walter White October 03, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Well, Dave I guess since you are for arming teachers in the classroom, you are for arming terrorists.
David Greenberg October 04, 2012 at 12:06 AM
True, they are two different taxing bodies, but The HP Park District has given money to D113 (pursuant to an Intergovernmental Agreement that allows the PD to use Wolter's Field as a de facto park facility). If I recall correctly, they gave $50K toward the cost of the Artificial Turf surface at Wolter's. So it's not unheard of, but I agree - in the fashion the OP comments about, it couldn't happen so easily...
Samantha Stolberg October 04, 2012 at 11:12 PM
"Second, we like our neighborhood schools. Even if you do not have kids in the school, having it near your house impacts your property values. This is the political buzz saw that we ran into in the 90’s when this last came up. I am not saying that we should not do it, but it will be tough." I'm not sure when your children went through District 112, but with the exceptions of Braeside, Ravinia and Oak Terrace, there is no such thing as a "Neighborhood School" anymore in Highland Park. I think it is especially interesting that you mentioned that not having a neighborhood school negatively impacts property values.


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