Teachers in Riverside Elementary School District 96 have a new contract, but many of them are not happy about it.

Members of the Riverside Education Council (REC), the union which includes teachers, paraprofessionals and school secretaries, approved a new three-year contract, retroactive to the beginning of this school year by a vote of 88 to 72. 

Three years ago, in contrast, a new contract was overwhelmingly approved by the REC by a vote of 127 to 10.

The District 96 school board unanimously approved the new contract at its Nov. 7 meeting.

The new deal, which runs through the 2020-21 school year, eliminates automatic step increases for teachers with 10 or more years of seniority. It also requires teachers to attend 12 mandatory, 75-minute professional development sessions after school during the school year, and raises employee health insurance premiums.

Teachers with less than 10 years of experience will get salary increases around 4 percent annually when automatic step increases are combined with a 0.25-percent increase in base pay for each of the next three years.

Salary increases will be less generous for more experienced teachers. Teachers with 11 to 20 years of experience will receive a flat 3-percent salary increase all three years of the contract. Teachers with more than 20 years of experience will receive flat 2.75-percent increases each year.

In the prior contract overwhelmingly approved in 2015, the salary schedule retained automatic step increases for 20 years.

Although negotiators for the school board and the union were mostly unwilling to go much beyond platitudes that each side had to compromise to reach a final agreement, it is fair to assume that the board team would have liked to have eliminated step increases entirely.

 Many other school districts, including Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208, Komarek District 94 and LaGrange District 102, have eliminated step raises completely in recent years. 

“When you are negotiating, it’s always a compromise as to what works best for all sides and the agreement you can reach in the end,” said REC Co-President Jen Ohlman, a second-grade teacher at Ames School. “We felt like the abbreviated salary schedule was a great compromise on both sides, as well as the other changes.”

The new contract entirely eliminates step increases for paraprofessionals. Instead, they’ll get 3 percent raises for each year of the contract.

“I think our goal was to stabilize the salaries to continue to attract high quality, but we did realize our paraprofessional salaries were a fair amount higher than other neighboring districts,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.

School board President Jeff Miller didn’t want to get into specifics about individual issues.

“Neither side ever gets everything they want, but I thought where we sort of settled was a fair agreement,” Miller said.

Ryan-Toye said that her former school district, River Forest District 90, got rid of step increases many years ago.

“What we did notice was that many districts don’t have a traditional salary schedule anymore,” Ryan-Toye said.  “I think it’s more straightforward. I think it’s more understandable.” 

Director of Finance and Operations James Fitton said that overall compensation costs are expected to increase by an average of 3.4 percent annually as result of the new contract.

Under the new contract a new teacher with just a bachelor’s degree and no experience will be paid $44,666. A teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience will be make $69,234, while a teacher with 30 graduate hours beyond a master’s degree and 10 years of experience will make $73,700.

District 96 pays its teachers more than most other elementary school districts in the area. For example, the starting salary for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 is $44,481.26, nearly matching District 96, but a District 103 teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience makes $51,091 — about $18,000 less than a comparable District 96 teacher.

The required after-school professional development meetings were a contentious issue for some District 96 teachers. These sessions will replace the six required 90-minute meetings held this year.

Some teachers complained that the additional required time at work will create child care problems for them, according to one teacher who voted against approving the contract but asked not to be named.

As a sweetener, teachers will be paid at their per diem hourly rate, which is based on their salary, for their attendance at the after-school sessions. Teachers currently are not paid extra for their attendance at after-school sessions 

Starting next year, the district will have four institute days, down from the six it has had in recent years.

Some teachers wondered why professional development and collaboration couldn’t have been worked into the regular school day, by having some late-start or early-release days for students as some districts do.

Health insurance changes also upset many of the teachers who voted against the contract. The employee’s share of the premium for PPO coverage will increase over the next two years while the employee contribution for HMO coverage will go down as the district tries to encourage employees to choose the cheaper HMO plan.

In the final two years of the contract, the employee contribution for the district’s family PPO plan will increase from 18 percent to 20 percent, while the employee contribution for the family HMO plan will decrease from 18 percent to 16 percent. 

For single coverage the current employee share of 8 percent for both HMO and PPO coverage will change to 10 percent for PPO coverage and to 6 percent for HMO coverage. 

The employee portion of PPO deductibles will be increasing by significant amounts over the final two years of the contract.

For individual plans the current PPO deducible of $600 will increase to $1,000 in January of 2020 and jump to $1,500 in January of 2021.

The family PPO deductible will jump from the current $1,800 to $3,000 in January of 2020 and then shoot up to $3,900 in January 2021.

The union co-presidents didn’t want to comment on whether the changes in the health insurance or other contract changes caused many teachers to vote against ratifying the contract.