Teachers and other members of the Riverside Education Council voted overwhelmingly last week to approve a three-year contract with the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education. 

The Sept. 4 vote was 127 to 10. School board members voted on whether to approve the contract at their Sept. 15 meeting, after the Landmark’s press time. The school board was expected to approve the contract. 

Each side in the negotiations won some things that it wanted. 

The school board was successful in mandating that professional development would occur beyond the normal school day. Teachers and other covered employees will also have to contribute more towards their health insurance. The new contract also will result in lower increases in base pay for teachers. 

But the union preserved the step-raise system, which grants automatic raises for longevity. Teachers also won a new benefit — up to a week of paid bereavement leave in the case of the death of an immediate family member.

Some teachers grumbled about the increase in their share of health insurance premiums but, as the overwhelming vote to approve the contract indicated, they were generally satisfied.

“It does take part of our salary [to pay more for health insurance], but it’s very fair,” said one District 96 teacher, who asked not to be identified because union leadership asked teachers not to discuss the contract details with the Landmark. “I’m happy with it.” 

Under the old contract, base pay increased by 50 percent of the consumer price index, but the minimum raise in base pay could go no lower than 1.75 percent. 

With the new contract, base pay raises will be 80 percent of CPI, but the minimum increase is lowered to just 1 percent. The maximum possible increase is lowered from 3.25 percent to 2.25 percent.

Because of the new lower floor, teachers will receive a 1.2 percent increase in base pay this year and just a 1 percent increase next year. 

David Sellers, District 96’s interim director of finance and operations, assisted the board’s negotiating team. He termed the reduction in the floor for raises “huge,” because inflation has been so low in recent years. 

The consumer price index (CPI) is also used to determine amount that schools and other units of local government can increase their property tax levy under the Illinois tax cap. Property taxes are by far the largest source of revenue for local school districts.  

“I think it’s a better alignment with the true CPI,” Sellers said. “We’ve connected our main category of expenditures with our primary source of revenue. That’s the way schools need to operate in an environment that is basically limited by the tax cap.”

A teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years’ experience will make $67,700 this year. A 20-year teacher with a master’s degree and 30 graduate credit hours will earn $93,030. The starting salary for brand new teacher with a bachelor’s degree will be $43,677. 

Teachers with more than 20 years of seniority do not receive step increases. Instead they will get annual increases in pay of 2.25 percent, with $111,961 listed as the highest salary on the schedule.

Teachers and other union members will have to chip in more for their health insurance under the new contract. Employee contributions for single coverage have increased to 8 percent of the premium from 5 percent. Employee contributions for family coverage will increase from 15 percent of the premium to 18 percent. 

Raises for retiring teachers, which serve to boost their pensions, will be reduced from four years of 6 percent annual raises to three years of 5 percent annual raises. The rate of increase in pay for extra-duty assignments will be cut in half to 1.2 percent from 2.25 percent.

Teachers received an increase in planning time. Elementary school teachers will get 230 minutes a week in planning time up from 170 minutes a week in the old contract. Teachers at L.J. Hauser Junior High School will receive 200 minutes a week of individual planning time per week and 200 minutes of team planning time.

Teachers will also be required to participate in six 90 minute long after-school, district-sponsored professional development meetings each school year. It was a high priority of the board negotiators to require professional development without reducing student attendance time.

Co-Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt, who assisted the board negotiating team of Rachel Marrello, Rich Regan and Shari Klyber, said the atmosphere during the negotiations was good. Patt said he was pleased by the overwhelming vote by the REC to approve the contract.

“I think it’s indicative of the fact that there’s a good working relationship going on right now that, hopefully, will take this district even further along toward some very positive things,” Patt. “It’s very nice to be able to sit down and go through something that can be contentious and have it come out to be something fairly positive.”