Updated: Champaign school district, teachers' union release proposals for a new contract

CHAMPAIGN — Both the union that represents Champaign teachers and the Champaign school district released their most current proposals for a new contract Thursday.

The district and the Champaign Federation of Teachers have been unable to settle on salary increases and several other issues, and were not able to reach a deal on a contract at a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday.

The two parties released their proposals as they continue through a process with the state that could lead to a teacher strike. However, they have another bargaining session scheduled for Oct. 7.

Union President Cathy Mannen said the union is focused on reaching a settlement without a strike.

"I'm optimistic every single time" the parties negotiate, she said.

School board President Laurie Bonnett gave a statement Thursday, saying "the board has a strong belief in and respect for its teachers and compensates them fairly for their work."

"This is demonstrated by the district's generous existing compensation and benefits package ... as well as its continued effort to offer raises at a time when others are cutting back," she said.

Neither Bonnett nor board member Kerris Lee answered questions from the media following the reading of their statements Thursday afternoon at the Mellon Administrative Building in Champaign.

You can see a PDF of the union's proposal here.

A PDF of the district's proposal is here.

And a PDF of the expired contract under which teachers are currently working is here.

There's no way to directly compare the salaries in the two proposals as they were released Thursday.

The union said it is proposing a one-year contract with a 3.65 percent increase to its salary schedule and said the district is proposing a 1.3 percent raise to its salary schedule in a three-year contract.

However, the district said when that 1.3 percent is added to the average 1.7 percent step increase in the teachers' existing contract, it's offering an average 3 percent raise each year for three years.

A step increase is an raise a teacher receives for working more years or having earned more education.

The district considers the union's proposal to be a 5.35 percent average raise for teachers, Bonnett said in her statement.

Mannen said that combines teachers' step increases with the union's proposed increase to the salary schedule as a whole.

"The union believes that step increases in the salary schedule are ... intended to be recognition of longevity (and) added skill that comes along with years of experience," Mannen said.

The issue of salary increases is just one item the sides can't agree on.

The union is asking the district to limit the amount of time elementary teachers spend supervising students but not teaching (such as before or after school or during lunch) to 20 minutes a day.

The union said it believes staff schedules in elementary schools can be rearranged without cost to the district.

However, the district rejected that proposal, saying such a thing wouldn't be practical and "would require a complete overhaul of the daily schedule at the elementary buildings, which would not benefit students or staff."

The district said it believes two extra aides would have to be hired at each school, calculating the cost at about $1.8 million.

"The board is committed to maintaining a safe and secure school environment and the CFT's proposal would jeopardize its ability to do so," Bonnett said in her statement.

Another issue has to do with teacher evaluations.

A recent law has changed how evaluations are conducted, and they can now be tied to reduction in force, which is when school districts dismiss employees because of economic uncertainty or when a grant isn't renewed.

The union is also asking the district to allow teachers who feel they haven't been fairly evaluated to be able send a letter with objections to a joint committee of teachers and administrators that deals with evaluations.

The district rejected this proposal, saying the committee isn't given any other role than to address matters of evaluation.

"State law simply doesn't provide for this," Bonnett said.

The two sides also disagree on the wording of contract language regarding how complaints against teachers are handled when teachers are put on paid administrative leave.

The two sides differ on whether parents should be involved before administrators investigate, according to the district's proposal.

The union wants the building's principal to write a letter of support for a teacher returning from such leave, but the district isn't "prepared to require" such a thing.

Lee read a statement from the board about how negotiations have gone so far, and how the district has "cut millions of dollars in staffing, programming and operation costs from its annual budget," and the cost of the union's step increases alone will eliminate an expected $630,000 surplus the district is expecting this year in the fund from which it pays teacher salaries.

On Monday, the board approved its budget knowing the district hasn't settled contracts with its teachers and the union that represents its support personnel.

Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said Thursday that while the district may not have a surplus in that fund this year, it would still have cash reserves.

At this point, the district's budget shows the it expects to end the year with about $12 million in that fund and about $12.2 million in its working-cash fund.

The district is still facing financial uncertainties because of possible pension reform, losses in state aid, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, federal sequestration and increased enrollment in Champaign, Lee said in his statement.

However, Mannen said teachers have made sacrifices in previous contracts because of the district's financial hardship. Local revenue is increasing, she said, and the union thinks the district is in good financial shape and should show its teachers it values them.

Teachers don't want to see the value of their contracts decrease, she said, and the union wants to make sure the district can continue to attract and keep quality teachers.

"The biggest factor of student success is the teacher," Mannen said. "As we've been working through this part round of negotiations, we've been very mindful of, how do we continue to attract and retain quality teachers and a what does our contract need to do that."

Steps remain before a teacher's strike could happen

The Champaign school district and the Champaign Federation of Teachers are now a week into an almost-month-long process that could lead to a teacher strike.

On Thursday, the district and the union that represents about 850 of its teachers both released their most current contract proposals that they'll send to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

The board will post those proposals on its website in one week. The union could call a strike two weeks after that — as long as it also has an intent-to-strike notice filed for at least 10 days. The soonest a strike could begin is Oct. 18.

The two sides have scheduled an Oct. 7 negotiating session with a federal mediator. They have been negotiating since May, and with a federal mediator since August.

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sdare wrote on September 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm

With a huge surplus in the school district, shouldn't we be paying our teachers for the quality of work they put out? The teachers in unit 4 work so hard for the children of the Champaign area, but they make pennies compared to what they should. Why is that? Are they not worth it? Maybe the school board members should take a day in the shoes of one of our amazing teachers. They work so hard, yet there is not enough compensation! 

Unit 4 teachers, I say strike! Show them how much you are needed and how they have been screwing you over for years!

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm
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As far as I know, the big issues are pension & Obamacare -- not so much salary.

Arwen57 wrote on September 27, 2013 at 6:09 am

Health care is certainly an issue for teachers with families. The cost to cover dependants is enormous. Pension uncertainty is an issue, but teachers have already agreed to absorb the cost of pension increases in a previous contract. So when that comes, they will be taking a pay cut. And please note- teachers do not qualify for social security.

But the real issue is the lack of respect from the board. This year teachers are piloting new curricula with little or no training, piloting a new report card (doesn't sound bad until you realize that there are over a dozen pages of rubrics to download and read before filling out an elementary report card-try explaining that to a parent in a 15 minute conference next month), a new evaluation instrument...

And this board, who claims to be bargaining in good faith, came to the table asking teachers to work a longer school day with no increase in pay. Every disgruntled tax payer should come to school and spend just one day shadowing a teacher. What they do for our children day after day is pretty amazing. A reasonable cost of living increase is not too much to ask.

cjwinla wrote on September 27, 2013 at 10:09 am

The supporters of the teachers are starting to sound like Tea Party fanatics. Just tell enough lies and enough people wll beieve you. The District offered 3% raise per year for 3 years plus paying all of their pension and health care costs. They would be the highest paid teachers in Central Illinois with the best benefit package. How is that not good faith ? We all wok hard in our chosen profession. If you choose to be a teacher and you are in the highest paid District within hundreds of miles, you should be very happy. Now if you don't like teaching and you are doing it just to get a check, please quit.  

cjwinla wrote on September 27, 2013 at 10:09 am

The supporters of the teachers are starting to sound like Tea Party fanatics. Just tell enough lies and enough people wll believe you. The District offered 3% raise per year for 3 years plus paying all of their pension and health care costs. They would be the highest paid teachers in Central Illinois with the best benefit package. How is that not good faith ? We all work hard in our chosen profession. If you choose to be a teacher and you are in the highest paid District within hundreds of miles, you should be very happy. Now if you don't like teaching and you are doing it just to get a check, please quit.  

bluegrass wrote on September 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

But the real issue is the lack of respect from the board.

Ehhhhh.  Not really that so much as it is about money.

The cost to cover dependants it enormous.

Define 'enormous.'

Bulldogmojo wrote on September 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

"Define enormous"?

I'm guessing $241,080.00

http://money.cnn.com/2013/08/14/pf/cost-children/index.html

Arwen57 wrote on September 29, 2013 at 7:09 am

Cost for teachers to cover one dependent $1011 or $1082 per month 

to cover more than one dependent $1261 or $1350 per month.

I'd say that qualifies as enormous. For many teachers that is well over 1/3 of their take home pay. 

Dogchakra wrote on September 27, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Teachers go to work, they get paid, pension gets taken out of paycheck. That's how THAT works. As for including the step increase in the "generous" raise, that's like equating a teacher with a PhD and 15 years of experience to a novice teacher fresh out of college. This is insulting and meant to demean teachers. The cost of living increase is 2.9% which makes the 1.3% offer even more insulting. On top of that, Unit 4 got rid of the teacher's HRA. Their are 15 administrators at Unit 4 that make over 100K a year. If the district really wanted to save some money, they could start by trimming THAT fat. Wiegand is incompetent and a thief. Not worth $182K a year.