D96 teachers, staff ink new 2-year contract

? With the arrival of a new superintendent, teachers and support staff agree on extension of the current contract.

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By BOB UPHUES

The last time a teacher contract was negotiated in Riverside Elementary School District 96, the process dragged on for months after the previous contract expired. With the current contract coming to an end at the close of the 2004-05 school year, many people were bracing for a similar drawn-out process.

Yet, with little fanfare, the district and the Riverside Education Council recently hammered out a two-year extension to the current contract, which will raise salaries anywhere between 2.3 and 6 percent in each of the next two years.

According to Superintendent Dr. David Bonnette, the key to coming to an early agreement on the terms of a new contract was the fact that the district will have a new superintendent for the 2005-06 school year. Dr. Jonathan Lamberson was hired last week to replace Bonnette as of July 1.

"The motivator here is that the new person coming in doesn't have to deal with this as the first issue," Bonnette said. "To have a person come into the district and be faced with negotiating a contract with teachers and support staff may not put them off on real good footing."

Michael Plunkett, president of the REC agreed with Bonnette's assessment, saying that teachers, too, wanted to smooth the waters as Lamberson began his tenure. Plunkett said that he and Bonnette had been talking about the new contract since May 2004.

"Everyone agrees this is a nice way to go," said Plunkett, a 35-year veteran art teacher who will be retiring at the end of the school year.

"The teachers were very much in favor of it," Plunkett added. "Everyone is happy with the contract, and are also looking forward to working with the new superintendent. Dave is going to be a hard act to follow."

According to the terms of the contract, which will expire at the end of the 2006-07 school year, teachers will receive pay raises each year of between 3.5 and 5 percent, depending on experience and education. The base salary of a new teacher with a bachelor's degree in 2005-06 will be $35,461, while the base salary of a teacher with a master's degree and 20 years of experience will be $70,922.

In 2006-07, the base salaries will jump to $36,809 for a new teacher with a bachelor's degree and to $73,618 for a teacher with a master's degree and 20 years of experience.

For teachers considered "off schedule" with more than 20 years of experience will receive raises of 5 percent each year.

The contract also covers support staff, including secretarial employees, library assistants, reading improvement program assistants, special education assistants, cafeteria employees, teacher associates, nurses and health aides.

Salary increases for support staff with five years experience or less will receive 2.3 percent raises. "Off schedule" support staff will receive 6 percent salary increases in each of the two years of the contract.

"I think with the transformation of the administration and the economy, the contract just gave us stability for the next two years," Plunkett said. "With what's happening [on the national picture] it's difficult to know what's going to happen."

The current contract, ratified in October 2001, was the result of a grueling process that lasted for months, well into the school year. Teachers at one point voted to strike if a contract wasn't signed before the beginning of the school year, and a federal mediator eventually stepped in to help resolve the impasse.

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