Deals on two big teacher contracts stabilize districts

Salaries going up by more than 3 percent in one district; the need to stay competitive a consideration

Karen Sorensen | 10/9/2014, 1:01 p.m.
Plainfield School District 202 has reached a tentative contract agreement with its teachers union, just one a week after Joliet ...

Plainfield School District 202 has reached a tentative contract agreement with its teachers union, just one a week after Joliet District 86 finalized a deal with its educators.

All told, some 1,800 full-time instructors are impacted by the new pacts, which not only will put more money into the pockets of employees but will avert any disruption in class time.

In one case, the deal was relatively simple. District 86 needed just two negotiating sessions to draft a new three-year accord that guarantees a 3.5 percent pay hike in the first year and 3.25 percent annually in the second two.

Those are healthy raises compared to the 2 percent annual deal inked in 2013 that was retroactive to 2012.

While district spokeswoman Sandy Zalewski was not involved in the contract talks, she said district officials are very aware of the need to stay competitive in its salaries in order to attract high-caliber candidates when jobs come open.

Most teacher contracts have “steps” that begin with a starting salary for someone who has just finished their bachelor’s degree and escalating to a top salary for someone with a master’s degree and decades of experience.

The Joliet district attempts to bring in a wide variety of skill levels when they’re hiring, depending on the subject level being taught, the pool of candidates who apply and how much money is available, she said. Better salaries increase the chance that better-quality and more-experienced candidates will apply, Zalewski said.

“We always try to keep our starting salaries competitive,” she said. “We hire a mix (of different experience levels). … It’s based on the quality of candidates who apply.”

The starting teacher's salary for someone with a bachelor's degree in the 2014-15 school year is $41,841.

"This agreement is an example of how our educators work together to continue exceptional education for our students," Supt. Charles Coleman said about the new contract.

Tom Hernandez, spokesman for District 202, with schools in Plainfield, Joliet, Romeoville and Bolingbrook, cannot release the details of the new teachers’ contract reached early Wednesday morning after nearly a year of negotiations. They will be made public once the teachers sign off on the deal on Oct. 17 and the school board follows suit on Oct. 27, he said.

The teachers have been working without a contract since June 30 and negotiations on the new deal began almost a year ago, Hernandez said. Neither is an unusual situation in collective bargaining for educator contracts, he said.

Although the teachers had taken a strike vote, alarming some who feared it might lead to teachers walking off the job, Hernandez said that, too, is a traditional move in contract talks.

“It’s always good to have everything stabilized,” Hernandez said. “Both sides are optimistic. We’ll see what happens (when it’s put to a vote).”

Unlike District 86, however, District 202 has been more financially strapped in recent years and faced a budget deficit of more than $9 million when negotiating the last teachers’ contract in 2011. In that three-year deal, teachers agreed to a “hard freeze” in the first year, with no step, longevity or extra duty pay increases. There were raises averaging about 2.55 percent in the second year and 1.5 percent in the third but no longevity increases and no raises for new teachers moving up just one “step.” Health insurance costs went up for everyone.

Whether the district has escalated those pay raise numbers this time around remains to be seen, but they are competing for the same pool of teachers who can opt to apply elsewhere if the numbers don’t stay in the ballpark.

That said, a recent survey conducted by reboot.com found that Plainfield, Joliet District 86 and Valley View School District 365 are among the top 25 schools for average salaries in the state.

Valley View ranks No. 3, with an average salary of $49,897 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and $54,503 for one with a master’s degree. Plainfield’s averages are $40,211 for a bachelor’s degree and $45,567 for a master’s degree and Joliet’s is $39,200 for a bachelor’s and $47,512 for a master’s. (Plainfield and Joliet numbers reflect pay levels under their previous contracts.)

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen@TheTimesWeekly.com.