That's Riverside Educational Council co-presidents Jeffrey Wydra (rainbow mask) and Brad Meyer speaking to the D96 school board shortly before the board voted to approve the new teachers contract on Sept. 15. | Bob Skolnik

In a switch from a long running trend, teachers, paraprofessionals, library assistants and school secretaries who work in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will contribute a little less, in percentage terms, towards their health insurance premiums under a new four-year contract that was unanimously approved by the District 96 Board of Education on Sept. 15.

Teachers and other members of the Riverside Education Council had earlier approved the new contract by an overwhelming vote of 111 to 14. That is a marked contrast to the last contract that was only approved by a vote 88 to 72 in 2018. In that three year contract the employee portion of PPO health insurance premiums increased by two percent and many staff felt that their pay raises were eaten up by increased health insurance costs.

In the new contract teachers and other union employees will now pay one percent less of their health insurance premiums. That translates to five percent of the premium for an HMO plan for a single person, nine percent of the premium for a single person PPO plan, 15 percent of the premium for a family HMO plan and 19 percent of the premium for a family PPO plan. The change is expected to cost the district an additional $17,000 a year.

“We figured that concession would help a little bit since that was a big topic with the last ratification,” said school board member Wesley Muirheid, who along with Joel Marhoul, served as the school board’s representatives on the district’s negotiating team.  

Salary increases in the new contract average out to 3.3 percent a year. All teachers are getting a one-time 1.25 percent salary increase to compensate them for the loss of the per diem stipends which were previously paid for professional development meetings.

District 96 uses step increases only for the first 10 years of a teacher’s career. Teachers with 10 years or less experience will get a two percent increase in base pay (plus step increases) this year and a .5 percent increase in base pay for the remaining three years of the contract. The starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is now $45,788. A teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of seniority will now make $70,972.

Teachers with 10 to 20 years of experience will be getting 4.25 percent raises this year, three percent raises in the next two school years, and a 2.75 percent raise for the 2024-2025 school year.

Teachers with more than 20 years of experience will get raises of four percent this year, 2.75 percent raises for the next two years, and a 2.5 percent raise in the 2024-25 school year.

The negotiations on the new contract, which were all conducted over Zoom, went on for about three months and were completed in June but teachers and other school staff didn’t vote on the contract until after they returned to school.

Both sides in the negotiations described the negotiations as collaborative and said that trust was built between the two sides.

“It really was a good process,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. 

Last year some teachers felt they weren’t really listened to in the district when the district started the school year with a hybrid learning plan when 60 percent of teachers favored 100 percent remote learning. When the district decided to switch to full day in person learning last spring, a majority of teachers opposed the switch. Teachers were also angered in May when former school board member Jeff Miller said staff members who were not vaccinated against COVID were irresponsible in the wake of an unvaccinated paraprofessional at Hollywood and a kindergarten student at Hollywood with whom the paraprofessional worked both tested positive for COVID. 

At Miller’s last meeting before his term expired a large group of teachers wearing red shirts gathered outside Ames School where the meeting was held to show their displeasure and the then union co-presidents wrote a letter to school board president Dan Hunt expressing their outrage at Miller’s comments and calling on him to resign.

But new union co-presidents Jeffrey Wydra, fourth grade teacher at Ames, and Brad Meyer, an instrumental music teacher at L.J. Hauser Junior High School, said that the negotiations on the new contract went well and said that a more collaborative relationship was being built with the school board and administration.    

“I think that according to our vote, 111 to 14, I think people were much pleased with what we came up with, and we’re building relationships with the Board of Education in a positive way,” Wydra said after the board vote. “They’re hearing what we need; we’re hearing what they need, and it really shows in the vote.”

Meyer agreed that the negotiations went smoothly. 

“I believe the whole process in general, from start to finish, was extremely collaborative, extremely professional,” Meyer said. “This is a great start to our tenure as union presidents. It’s a great step forward for both the district and the union in working together to help the students do the best and succeed in the district.”

The collaborative spirit extended to creating a joint teacher-administration Professional Learning Planning Team to plan professional development for teachers in an attempt to give teachers more input into their own professional development. In the past some teachers thought the district’s professional development was too administrator driven.

Teachers are required to participate in eight after school professional development sessions a year that can last no longer than 75 minutes each. They are also required to stay after school for no more than an hour six times a year for faculty meetings.

Annual sick days were increased one day to 14 paid sick days a year. Staff will also get two additional personal days that they can take for religious holidays that are not days off in the district. That is in addition to the three personal days staff already had.

Teachers are required to be at school each day for at least seven hours and 10 minutes with at least 30 minutes for lunch. The contract calls for elementary school teachers to get at least 270 minutes of planning time a week during the school day. Hauser teachers get at least five periods a week, each lasting at least 20 minutes but preferably 30 minutes, for individual planning time and get five more periods a week for team planning time.

Educational support employees are receiving a three percent raise this year, and 2.75 percent raises in each of the remaining three years of the contract. The staring salary for a school secretary was increased to $31,883 and will increase to $33,834 in the last year of the contract. The starting salary for paraprofessionals and library assistants was raised to $18.71 an hour and increases to $19.86 an hour in the 2024-25 school year.