School administrators and teachers in Champaign now are free to focus all their attention on students.
With contract negotiations finally resolved in the Champaign school district, negotiators for both union and management are free to take just a short break because they have to prepare for ... more contract negotiations.
That's the glaring problem with the one-year contract agreement approved by Champaign teachers and members of the school board.
It's far too short, but for understandable reasons. With the state effectively bankrupt and the future uncertain, neither union nor management felt comfortable with a long-term agreement. That's why the contract just approved will expire on June 30, less than eight months from now.
"We haven't set an actual time yet. I would anticipate (negotiations will start) soon — the next few months," said Ken Kleber, Unit 4's executive director of human resources.
As for the contract, the roughly 850 members of the teachers' union did pretty well for themselves, particularly in light of the current weak economy. They will receive an overall 3 percent pay increase. Under the agreement, a starting teacher with a bachelors degree and no experience will be paid $39,706 while a teacher with a doctorate degree at the highest level on the pay scale will be paid $72,493.
Overall, the agreement will cost taxpayers an additional $1.169 million during the current fiscal year.
Teachers did agree to pick up more of the cost of their health insurance. They agreed to higher co-pays for hospitalization and prescription costs and increases in maximum out-of-pocket costs from $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to $3,000 for individuals and $6,000 for families.
Another concession was the union members' decision to give up a retirement incentive that allowed them to receive four consecutive 6 percent annual raises if they announced plans to retire. School districts used that kind of incentive to encourage more experienced teachers to retire. In doing so, school districts cut their own costs while dumping increased retirement costs on the financially beleaguered Teachers' Retirement System.
In light of the state's public pension woes, it's our hope and expectation that school administrators and teachers across Illinois will abandon this kind of retirement incentive.
Champaign school administrators already have given up that retirement incentive, a factor in persuading teachers to follow suit. However, the benefit will not expire until June 30.
The agreement headed off the possibility of a strike. While union negotiators raised the specter of a disruptive strike, contract talks proceeded amicably. It's good to have this issue resolved, but, as the impending negotiations indicate, school financial issues are hardly settled.