Class sizes, development, pay at heart of dispute between Unit 4, teachers union

Class sizes, development, pay at heart of dispute between Unit 4, teachers union

CHAMPAIGN — From crammed classrooms to compensation for archery coaches, Unit 4 teachers and district administrators appear to be no closer on the terms of a new contract than they were when the last one expired in June.

On the heels of last week's unsuccessful bargaining session — and with the next one not scheduled until two weeks from today — both sides on Wednesday released 19 pages of documents outlining several of the unresolved issues.

Today, members of the Champaign Federation of Teachers plan to picket outside the district's new administrative headquarters on Windsor Road.

Here's how the two sides view some of the major sticking points.

1. Professional development

The teachers' union has been vocal about its displeasure over the proposed addition of two more professional development (or institute) days, alleging that Unit 4 wants to "fix" teachers rather than provide them with more time with students.

The CFT's proposal would slash a professional development day in half so that staff may "collaborate with colleagues, plan for instruction, reflect on assessment results and refine their practice."

So far, Unit 4 has rejected that proposal, pointing to data it says shows that "most (professional development sessions) receive positive feedback from 90 percent of teachers each year."

Unit 4 also noted that it considers some of these sessions "critical" to fostering racial equity across the district.

Among the union's issues with how such days are formatted now: "Often times, the district's professional development takes a one-size-fits-all approach and does not account for the fact that we are incredibly varied in terms of our job descriptions and experiences."

2. Class sizes

This much is undeniable: The Champaign school district continues to grow. What remains in dispute is how Unit 4 should respond to surging enrollment.

The union wants a formal cap placed on the number of students who can be in a single classroom. And if that number exceeds 22 students for more than a month, an aide should be provided to help the teacher.

That, Unit 4 argues, would result in the hiring of at least 32 teacher's aides, costing an extra $2,259,368 over a three-year agreement. "That is why the board has extended an offer to CFT to study this issue during the current school year and has come up with more collaborative solutions," Unit 4's proposal states.

CFT remained unsatisfied with the study option, noting that previous discussions of the issue didn't generate any tangible results: "Two years ago, we started having 'broad conversations' about middle school capacity and presented to the board that middle schools are projected to be over capacity by more than 400 students by the 2019-2020 school year, yet those conversations have brought about no clear vision or plan of how to address that problem. We feel it is imperative to do more than simply talk about a problem; we must act."

3. Pay raises

Earlier this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a cap on teacher pay that prohibits end-of-career raises higher than 3 percent in their last four years of employment.

If school districts choose to go over the 3 percent mark, they could be penalized by the state, a concern Unit 4 expressed in its proposal. "For this reason, the (school) board is proposing a total average increase of 3.8 percent for all teachers on the salary schedule." As for those further along in their career "and no longer on the salary schedule, the board proposes a 2.5 pay raise."

The CFT is calling for a 3 percent raise for teachers off the salary schedule, among other things. Inflation has to be factored in, the union says.

"Neither (of the district's) numbers can give us confidence that our member's salaries will be keeping up with inflation," the CFT writes.

District officials said they threw in a sweetener for teachers who announce their intention to retire as they near the end of their careers — "a post-retirement severance payment equal to 10 percent of the teacher's final base salary."

Unit 4 estimates its proposal would cost $12,313,690 over the course of a three-year agreement.

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