With salaries still hovering under the state average, teachers and district officials in Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 have hammered out a three-year contract that makes teacher salaries more competitive with those in nearby districts.

Teachers will receive pay raises of 6, 7 and 8 percent in each of the next three years. Meanwhile, there will be no change in the health insurance contribution for teachers, who pay 10 percent of the premium costs for both themselves and their families.

“We were delighted there was no change in our insurance benefits,” said Karen Gipson, a fourth grade teacher at Costello School who served as the lead negotiator for the teacher’s union. “The things that were most important to the teachers were salary and benefits. The insurance benefit is very valuable.”

During the first year of the new contract, teachers on the lower end of the pay scale will get boosts slightly higher than those at the top of the pay scale. The reason, said Superintendent Dr. Raymond Lauk was to make sure younger teachers would seek to stay in the district rather than seek jobs in neighboring, better paying districts.

“We still don’t have a $30,000 base [salary] yet,” Lauk said. “We really have been low [in terms of teacher salaries] in the area.”

According to Gipson, some 68 percent of the district’s teachers have 10 years experience or less, so there was an incentive to give larger raises to that group earlier in the process.

“We wanted to do what we could to hopefully show that we were interested in keeping them,” Gipson said.

During the second and third years of the contract, however, raises will be uniform up and down the pay scale. By 2007-08, a first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will make $32,776. Meanwhile, a teacher with a master’s degree and over 30 years of experience within the district could make up to $85,000.

According to Illinois State Board of Education records, the average teacher salary in 2003-04 in District 103 was just over $39,000. The state average was just over $54,000.

“The [raises] still don’t put us in the same category as neighboring districts like Riverside and LaGrange,” Gipson said. “We’ll see in the long run if we keep our teachers.”

After three consecutive one-year contracts, Gipson said teachers were thrilled to finally have a multi-year deal in place.

“It’s something teachers can plan their futures on,” she said. “In the end when we brought this contract to our teachers, they overwhelmingly, resoundingly approved it.

“We thought that it was very fair,” Gipson added.

Looking beyond raises for current staff, the total teacher payroll in District 103 will likely jump much more than 6 percent next year. The district will continue to add staff as it implements its school improvement plan on the heels of 2004’s successful tax referendum, which bailed out the cash-strapped district.

Lauk estimated that the district will add 10 teachers in 2005-06. Art will be reintroduced into the district’s K-5 schools, and staff will be added to address growing needs in special education and English as a Second Language programs. Staff will also be added for the gifted program. Those 10 teachers are expected to add approximately $400,000 to the payroll in salary and benefits.

That comes on top of a roughly $1 million boost in total teacher payroll during a 2004-05 school year that saw 25 new positions added district-wide. Most of the hires were in response to a goal of reducing class sizes throughout the district. Three music teachers were among those hired this year.

The contract also includes an slight extension of the District 103 school day. Beginning in 2005-06, the school day will be five minutes longer, but the added time will be “non-instructional” at both the elementary schools and the middle school.

Lunch will be extended five minutes at the K-5 buildings, while the five-minute addition will be added to passing periods or some other non-instructional period during the school day at George Washington Middle School.