After just a handful of amicable bargaining sessions between the school administration and the teachers union, teaching staff at Riverside-Brookfield High School and the school board inked a new three-year contract.

The deal, which runs from July 1, 2005 until June 30, 2008, calls for teachers to receive 5-percent raises each year.

According to a release issued by the district after the deal was ratified on March 21, salary increases will be “equal to the CPI plus an adjustment.” In practice, the adjustment will bring the raises up to 5 percent each year so that “in three years the salary schedule will be slightly above average for teachers in Cook County.”

Currently, the average teacher salary at RB is $67,044. After the retirements of some longtime staffers this year, next year’s average salary is expected to be $65,354. In comparison, the average teacher’s salary at Lyons Township High School was nearly $80,000 in 2002-03.

However, based on comparisons of the state’s School Report Cards, RB outranked LTHS in four of five areas, including reading, math, writing and science. Taken together, 77 percent of RB juniors met or exceeded state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, compared to 74.2 percent at LT.

RB also boasted a 99-percent graduation rate, compared to LT’s 90.4 percent, yet RB has a larger percentage of low-income students (6.8 percent, compared to LT’s 2.6).

RB’s state test scores have also climbed dramatically in recent years. In 2001 and 2002, 69 percent of RB’s juniors met or exceeded state standards. In 2003, that number jumped to 72.6 percent.

“Compared to other Cook County high schools, we felt we deserved to be paid better than average,” said Jerry Blew, an RB math teacher and president of the Riverside Brookfield Education Council. “By the end of the contract we wanted to be above average, and we feel we’ve achieved that with this negotiation.”

In return for the raises, teachers have agreed to a change in the district’s policy regarding early retirements. The change, according to Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann, could help the district recoup the tens of thousands of dollars per year it must pay in penalties when a teacher retires early.

Under the current agreement, teachers who retire early are paid bonuses in their last two years of employment. Depending on the salary level of the employee, the bonuses can add up to $20,000 or $30,000. But when a teacher retires early, the state mandates a penalty that can add up to thousands of dollars per teacher.

For example, 11 teachers are opting to retire at the end of the 2004-05 school year. Six of those teachers are retiring early. In addition to bonuses the district has paid to those teachers over the last two years of their employment, it is also paying an early retirement penalty to Illinois Teacher Retirement System on each of them.

According to Baldermann, those penalties amount to upwards of $300,000. In contrast, the rest of the teaching staff (close to 100) will receive raises next year amounting to roughly $400,000.

Under the new contract, however, teachers who announce their intention of retiring early will no longer receive the retirement bonuses offered by the district. The district will still have to pay the mandatory state penalty, but that fee will be offset somewhat by the money the district saves in retirement bonuses.

“It was finally a recognition from the administration, board and even our teachers association that [the old deal] was a little outlandish,” Baldermann said. “For an eight- to 10-year period teachers were getting ridiculous incentives. It’s not only unfair, but eventually it was definitely going to hurt the system.”

Blew concurred with Baldermann regarding the change to the early retirement bonuses.

“Our feeling, along with the board is that this would be equitable to all,” Blew said. “If you choose to leave early you get no retirement incentives. It’s fair for the teachers association, the Board of education and the district.”