The board on Tuesday evening approved a new contract with its teachers’ union that will give most a 3.5 percent raise over two years.
The raises involve increases in base salaries combined with payment for adding one instructional day each year and step increases, which teachers generally receive until they reach 20 years of experience.
“This agreement recognizes both the value of the high-quality faculty members who make New Trier such an exceptional school [system] and the difficult economic circumstances the district and the community have faced in the last few years,” School Board President John Myefski and New Trier Township Education Association President Marty Laffey said in a joint statement that was e-mailed to parents after the deal was approved.
“Township residents made it clear in the recent community survey that attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is a top priority for the school,” it added.
“There was clearly a recognition of the difficult economic times by both parties,” said Associate Superintendent Donald Goers, a member of the district’s negotiating team.
Goers noted the pay increases were below the placeholder numbers that he included in the tentative budget provided to the school board.
That wasn’t good enough for school board member Patrick O’Donohue, who cast the only vote against the contract.
O’Donohue said the district should have tied teacher raises to the consumer price index (CPI). He reasoned that the school district’s property tax levy was limited by the consumer price index, and property taxes provide nearly 80 percent of the district’s revenue.
“When we don’t have the ability to raise our property tax levy beyond CPI, that means salaries and benefits have to come from the rest of the budget,” O’Donohue said.
School board member Alan Dolinko, who served on the district's bargaining team, said negotiations were “hard-nosed but fair.”
There were about 20 meetings between January and the end of June, which was followed by another five meetings with a mediator. Officials said the lengthy talks were required because the district simply could not offer the kind of raises it had in the past.
“The conversation had to be very different than it has been in recent memory,” Dolinko said.
He noted that not every teacher would receive a 3.5 percent raise during the contract's two years. Those at the top of their salary scales do not receive step increases, so they will get a 1.2 percent bump now and 1.3 percent more during the 2012-2013 school year.
About a quarter of the district’s teachers are at the top of their salary scales, according to Superintendent Linda Yonke.
Pay levels are divided into five categories based on education, other qualifications and status as a master or leader teacher. The top salaried teachers--those classified as masters and leaders--will earn $124,363 this year and $125,980 during the next school year. The starting salary for those with a bachelor’s degree and no experience will be $51,840 and $52,514, respectively.
With the final teacher salary figures coming in below the number used to develop the tentative budget, the district remains in excellent financial position, Myefski said.
Mac Harris, a school board member who was on the district’s negotiating committee, said he was exceptionally pleased to get the addition of two instructional days over the two years of the contract, as they will remain on the school calendar into the future.
School board member Peter Fischer agreed that the contract helps meet the goals of attracting and retaining top-quality teachers while showing fiscal responsibility.
“The community understands that teachers are not fungible goods,” he said, “and we don’t fill teaching spots with just anybody.”
In addition to setting teacher salaries and adding days to the school year, the new contract also includes provisions required by an education bill passed by the state legislature last year. Among the new requirements are teacher evaluations and determining which teachers to let go if staffing levels are reduced.
At the end of the meeting, Yonke announced that the additional day in the 2011-2012 school year will be June 8.