Champaign teachers are "furious" over what they say is the school district's attempts to make them look greedy and "do not believe school board members truly respect the work they do," said two union officials Tuesday. But according to a Unit 4 statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the board does value its teachers "and has offered a 3 percent total raise that exceeds the cost (of) living at a time when many districts are cutting back."
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign teachers are "furious" over what they say is the school district's attempts to make them look greedy and "do not believe school board members truly respect the work they do," said two union officials Tuesday.
But according to a Unit 4 statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the board does value its teachers "and has offered a 3 percent total raise that exceeds the cost (of) living at a time when many districts are cutting back."
The school district and teachers' union have been trying to negotiate a new contract since May and are in the middle of a process that could eventually lead to a strike.
The parties have scheduled another negotiating session with a federal mediator for next Monday.
Local union President Cathy Mannen and Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford read from a statement Tuesday that the Champaign Federation of Teachers believes the school district issued an inaccurate document last week to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
"Teachers in Champaign are furious over the school board's attempt to hide the sacrifices they've made and instead try to make them look greedy," the statement said. "The district spent a great deal of time and resources to create an unusually long document that manipulates data," referring to the school board's proposal.
For example, the statement said, the school district "intentionally" left out the fact that a Bloomington teacher with a master's degree and 15 years of experience "makes almost $7,000 more a year than a Champaign teacher."
The school district compared teacher salaries with those from smaller school districts or those in situations different from Champaign's, Comerford said. The board compared several salaries with those from Urbana, Bloomington, Danville, Normal, Decatur, Rantoul, Mahomet-Seymour, Unity, St. Joseph-Ogden and Tuscola.
"The school board's focus in their document filed with the labor board is all about decreasing teacher salaries," the statement said. "With a $24 million surplus, the district can easily afford to make teachers a priority, but instead, they want to move teacher salaries backward."
According to a statement from spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart, the Champaign school board "stands behind the accuracy of the offer document presented to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board."
"While the parties may differ on semantics, the Board firmly believes that if an employee brings home more money this year than they did the previous year, it is considered a raise."
In addressing the district's fund balance, the school board said:
"The fund balance can only be spent once and once it's spent on salaries it is gone. The board strongly believes that we cannot use the fund balance to support our salaries, but rather ensure our revenues cover our outgoing expenses. Just like our families must balance their budgets between their income and household expenses, the district must do the same."
Champaign's teachers also believe the school board doesn't respect the work they do, the statement said.
"More is expected out of teachers each year and at the same time they see the school board decreasing their ability to pay the bills," it said. "Teachers are frustrated and morale is at an all-time low."
Mannen said Tuesday she's gotten a lot of feedback from Champaign teachers about this.
"The concessions that the union has made has contributed to the good financial standing," Mannen said. "The feedback I'm getting from teachers is the district is making them out to look ... greedy."
School board President Laurie Bonnett said Wednesday she's not sure what the teachers' definition of respect is, but she believes they're respected through their salaries and health benefits.
"If you want to define respect by money, yes we respect them," Bonnett said. "Are we trying to improve the conditions they work in through our facilities, yes we're trying to do that."
She said the school district is also trying to build in more support for teachers in the classroom.
"(Board members) have children in those classrooms," she said. "If as a board member, I did not respect the teachers, I would not be sending my children to Unit 4 schools."
She said she thinks the issue of a lack of respect is simply something the union continues to repeat.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board will post both sides' current offers this week, which they submitted last Thursday. Both sides have already released their offers to the public.
The offers need to be posted on the board's website two weeks before the teachers can strike.
Based on that time line, and if teachers filed an intent-to-strike notice with the school district calendar 10 days prior, they could strike Oct. 18. The union has not filed such a notice at this time.
You can see PDFs of the union's offer at http://bit.ly/CFTprop  and the district's at http://bit.ly/u4prop . You can see a PDF of the expired contract teachers are currently working under at http://bit.ly/cftexpired 
Comerford said the school district, at least in a one-year contract, should share its multimillion-dollar fund balance with teachers.
"They can afford to share a portion of that with the people who teach kids every day," he said.
One issue between the two sides has been the idea of whether a raise should include the average step increase on the salary schedule, or on top of it.
A salary schedule provides for how much a teacher earns based on years of experience and education.
A step increase is when a teacher earns more money when working another year, up to 21 years, in the teachers' previous contract.
The school district has said it is offering a total of an average 3 percent increase each year in a three-year contract, by adding a 1.3 percent increase to what it said is an average 1.7 percent step increase.
The union said Tuesday that it believes the average step increase is 1.57 percent.
The teachers are asking for a one-year contract with a 3.65 percent increase on top of step increases.
Mannen has said teachers don't consider the latter a cost-of-living increase, but rather, compensation for longevity and experience within the district.
The union also released a chart that compared increases to teachers' salary schedules from 2005-06 to the present with the Consumer Price Index for those years. Comerford said the union gave the document to the board during their last negotiating session.
"If step increases are used to cover cost-of-living increases, then a teacher won't ever make much more than the starting salary," the union's statement said. "This is the wrong direction for our district and the long-term effect will hurt our ability to attract and retain good teachers."
Mannen said if the teachers and school district don't settle a new contract next Monday, they'll schedule another negotiating session.