Riverside Brookfield High School teachers and support staff and the District 208 school board signed a three-year contract on Dec. 18, moments after the school board voted unanimously to approve the deal at a special board meeting.
The new contract, which is retroactive to July 1, calls for teachers to receive no increase in pay at all in the 2014-15 school year.
Under the so-called hard freeze, teachers will not receive any increase in base pay next year nor will they advance a step on the salary scale. For the 2013-14 school year, teachers advance a step on the salary schedule, but receive no increase in base pay.
The only increase in base pay for teachers during the three-year contract comes in the final year, when teachers will receive an increase in their base pay of 85 percent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and also advance a lane on the salary schedule.
The increase in base pay in the third year of the contract is capped at no more than 2.75 percent and can be no less than 1 percent.
Wendy Cassens, an English teacher at RBHS who is the president of the Riverside Brookfield Education Association (RBEA) this year, said that the hard freeze in pay during the second year of the contract was not that difficult to swallow.
“That was part of the compromise,” Cassens said. “We did retain the salary schedule.”
The RBEA was able to preserve step increases, which have been eliminated in some recent teacher contracts, including Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 and Komarek School District 94.
The teachers had been working this school year without a contract since the previous five-year contract expired on June 30.
Cassens would not reveal the precise vote of the RBEA to approve the contract, but said that about 85 percent of RBEA members voted in favor of the deal. She appeared to have a good personal relationship with District 208 school board President Matt Sinde, which may have aided the negotiations.
In a prepared statement that he read before the board voted to approve the contract, Sinde went out of his way to thank Cassens and praise the RBEA.
“This is my fifth year being a school board member and I have to admit that, at times, the relationship between the board and the RBEA has not always been positive,” Sinde said. “My experiences going through this process have provided me with a different perspective of the RBEA. I truly believe that they are committed to the students of this high school and the community and that they want what is best for the future of Riverside-Brookfield High School.
Cassens also praised the atmosphere of the negotiations. She said that the union never got close to considering a strike.
“I would say it was refreshing to collaborate,” Cassens said. “There were some things that we wanted and they wanted and we would compromise. And although it may have taken longer than some people would have hoped, we kept moving forward, and so that’s why there was never any need to take harsh measures. We just kept working together.”
Board member Garry Gryczan, who along with Sinde and attorney Lynn Himes made up the board’s negotiating team, said that the deal would increase district’s costs by less than 2 percent per year.
“With the teachers taking a hard freeze [in the second year of the contract] it helps significantly to keep these costs contained,” Gryczan said.
Sinde said that the contract achieves a number of board goals.
“It sustains the board’s budget and long range financial goals,” Sinde said. “It includes cost containments and cost-reduction measures in the district’s employee health insurance plans and establishes a percentage contribution by employees towards health insurance premiums without increasing the employee’s cost for health insurance.”
Under the old contract employees contributed a maximum of $450 (a year) toward PPO health coverage for single coverage and $250 a year toward single HMO coverage. Now employees will contribute 7 percent of health premiums for PPO coverage and 5 percent for HMO coverage. The contribution for family coverage with either option will be 15 percent.
The contract also restructures the retirement incentive for teachers by eliminating incentives for teachers whose retirements would result in a penalty for the district, said Sinde.
Non-certified employees will receive a 3.5-percent pay raise this year. Over the final two years of the contract their raises will be tied to CPI under the same formula used in the last year of the contract for teachers, except that in the last year of the contract, academic support employees will receive no pay raise.
The contract will restore several stipend positions that were cut in recent years.
“Starting with the 2014-15 school year several of the extracurricular stipend positions that were previously reduced due to budget cuts will be reinstated,” Sinde said. “The cap on the use of volunteers to assist with extracurricular programs will be dissolved.”
The deal appears to strengthen management rights. The new contract eliminates a provision in the old contract that granted teachers 180 days of sick leave for two consecutive years after reaching 10 years of teaching experience. The extra sick days were often used to allow retiring teachers to be credited with an additional year of service for pension purposes.
Under the old contract all teachers received 15 days of sick leave. Under the new contract teachers with one to four years of experience will get 10 days of sick leave, those with five to 15 years of experience get 15 days of sick leave and those with have taught at RBHS for 16 years or more get 19 days of sick leave.
The contract requires teachers to update their online grade books once every three weeks during the school year. Teachers must be in their classrooms for at least five minutes before the first period begins and five minutes after the last period ends.
The contract states that the board and superintendent make “reasonable effort to ensure that class sizes and staffing levels and patterns meet the requirements of the quality education program.”
The superintendent will be required to meet with the RBEA president before making any decisions on class size, but the contract states that the decision of the school board and superintendent on class size is final. That provision is little changed from the previous contract which also required the superintendent to consult with departmental chairpersons.
But department chair positions are being eliminated and replaced with what the contract calls “instructional coaches,” who will take on many of the duties of department chairs. These coaches will teach one fewer class a day than full-time teachers and receive a stipend of $5,000.
“I’m very pleased with how the contract came out,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. “I thought the RBEA and the board worked well together in order to clarify the essential management rights to run an effective school district, but still allow the association to have a voice in decision making.”