RBEA President Mark Helgeson (left), with school board President Deanna Zalas looking on, signs the new three-year teachers’ contract approved by the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education on May 27. | Bob Skolnik/Contributor

Teachers at Riverside-Brookfield High School have a new three-year contract. At a special meeting held shortly before graduation ceremonies on May 27, the Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to approve the deal with the Riverside Brookfield Teachers Association (RBEA), the union representing teachers and educational support personnel at the school.

Board member Laura Hruska cast the only vote against approving the contract. Union members had voted on the last day of school to approve the agreement.

Teachers will receive flat-dollar raises instead of percentage increases, and there are no step increases in the deal. RBHS teacher contracts have not included step raises since 2016.

 All teachers with just a bachelor’s degree will receive a raise of $3,500 next year. Teachers with a master’s degree will receive raises of between $4,000 and $5,200 next year, depending on how long they have taught. 

In the second and third years of the contract, raises will depend on the inflation rate. If inflation is less than 4.5 percent in those years, teachers with only a bachelor’s degree will receive a raise of $2,500 in the 2023-24 school year and a raise of $2,800 in the 2024-25 school year. If inflation is 4.5 percent or greater, those teachers will receive a raise $3,500 in 2023-24 and a raise of $3,000 in the 2024-25 school year.

For teachers with master’s degrees raises will range from $3,000 to $4,200 in the 2023-24 and from $3,300 to $4,500 in 2024-25 if inflation is less than 4.5 percent. In inflation is greater than 4.5 percent, raises will range from $4,000 from $5,200 in the 2023-24 school year and from $3,500 to $4,700 in 2024-25.

The new starting salary for a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree will rise to $56,000 next year while the starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree and no experience will rise to $61,000.

“I think it’s a reasonable and responsible contract,” said Deanna Zalas, the president of the District 208 Board of Education.

Hruska, however, thought the raises were too generous in a time some people were still hurting from the financial effects of the pandemic.

“During COVID things changed for many people,” Hruska said. “Many people lost jobs and careers.”

Hruska said that some people are still upside down on the mortgages and noted that taxes are an increasing burden.

“I just expected that that there would be more concessions and we would have had a more conservative budget given what we know about our future,” Hruska said. 

Marc Helgeson, an English teacher and the faculty advisor to the student newspaper who is the new president of the RBEA, declined to comment when asked about the contract by the Landmark instead pointing to a joint press release that was issued by the school board and the RBEA.

The press released merely summarized the contract and did not include any direct quotations from anyone.

“Board President Deanna Zalas and RBEA president Marc Helgeson commended all the participants in the negotiations process for their dedication and collaborative efforts in finalizing the CBA,” the press release stated.

Paraprofessionals at RBHS will get a $3 an hour raise next year and $1 an hour an hour raises in the final two years of the contract. The starting salary for a parapro at RBHS next year will rise to $18.50 an hour.

“These are the individuals who make the school operate,” Zalas said. “You can’t undervalue their work.”

Parapros who have worked at RBHS for 10 years will receive a $1,000 longevity stipend added to their salary while parapros who work at RBHS for more than 20 years will receive a $1,500 longevity stipend.

Fringe benefits and insurance contributions are unchanged in the new contract.

According to the joint press release the new contract will cost the district an additional $524,000 a year, which is in line with projected budgets.

The biggest change in the contract is the eventual elimination of the instructional coach model of department leadership. Instructional coaches replaced more traditional department chairs in 2013 in move that many veteran teachers did not like. There has been a good bit of turnover among instructional coaches since the position was created.

Instructional coaches will remain for next year but will be eliminated in the 2023-24 school year when RBHS will switch to a new system of division heads. There will be four division heads: Special Education, Career and Technical Education, Math and Science, and Humanities. 

These division heads will remain teachers and not administrators and continue to be members of the RBEA. The Math and Science and Humanities division chairs will have three release periods to do curricular, supervisory and administrative work compared to just one release period for instructional coaches. The Career and Technical Education division chair will have two release periods and the special education division chair will have one release period.

“To take the district to the next level, we needed to focus on curriculum in a way that we were currently not focusing on curriculum,” Zalas said. “We have the IC model right now, and no one was entirely happy with that.”

The goal is to improve curriculum development and to involve teachers more in helping other teachers improve teaching.

“It puts a lot of time and effort on instructional improvement from peers,” Zalas said. 

The contract was hammered out in seven negotiating sessions. The board and RBEA used the interest-based negotiating model in which both sides focused on what interests they wanted to advance and sought common ground.

A federal mediator, Rose Tiseareno, helped out and spent the final negotiating session shuttling between separate rooms in which the board negotiating team and the RBEA team were huddled. 

“The final meeting was a little more hands on from the mediator,” Zalas said. “She spent more time in our room and in the RBEA room.”

The board team consisted of Zalas, superintendent Kevin Skinkis, assistant superintendent Kristin Smetana, and a lawyer.

Helgeson declined to say what the vote total was when the RBEA members voted to approve the contract but it seems to have been approved by a large margin.

“I’m glad it was resolved before the end of the school year,” Zalas said. “I’m glad that it seemed to get strong support from the union. It had strong support from the board of education. That’s a sign of a fairly negotiated contract.”