D-207 New Contract Signals 'Good Working Relationship'
Common goal: avoid the financial chaos that led to laying off 137 employees two years ago.
The new three-year contract between Maine Township High School District 207 and the Maine Teachers Association was approved with little dissension June 18.
“We had a really good teacher leadership team and a good administrative team coming together,” District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said. “We work together with teachers every day on a variety of issues for the good of the students. We’ve got good trust, we’ve got a good working relationship and we took that to the table.”
The contract includes an average raise of .66 percent in the first year, no raise in the second year and an increase of between .5 percent and 2.4 percent in the third year depending on the consumer price index. It also moves from a 20-step pay schedule to a 25-step pay schedule for teachers and includes some health care cost containment provisions. The two sides met 19 times for a total of 67 hours.
“It was very frank, very fair, collaborative,” Wallace said. “The two sides both moved to a spot that represented true win-win negotiating.”
It was in everyone’s interest to keep the district fiscally sound and avoid a financial crisis like the one that happened in 2010, when the district cut 137 employees.
“We don’t ever want to be in that situation again,” Wallace said. “We want the people who come to work for us to be confident that their job will be there the next year.”
Tying raises in the last year to the consumer price index was essential to the school board, Wallace said, because the amount the district can collect in property taxes also is limited by the rate of inflation.
“That was a fundamental piece because we have to live within our means, we have to budget within our means,” he said.
The contract won near-unanimous support from the school board, with the only no vote coming from board member Edward Mueller.
In a telephone interview, Mueller said he sees many positive aspects to the contract. He just wanted a bit more.
“The contract moved in the right direction,” he said. “I just felt that we didn’t push it as far as we could to get the best contract we could get.”
Specifically, Mueller said, he would have liked the contract to include a clause saying the district could reopen negotiations if Illinois requires local school districts to assume greater pension obligations. If that happens – as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan wants – it could cost District 207 between $1 million and $2 million a year.
He also thought the district could have gotten bigger concessions on health care costs, Mueller said.
For the first two years of the contract, a first-year teacher will make a total of $54,316 in salary and district-paid pension payments. A teacher at the top of the salary schedule – with 25 years experience and a master’s degree plus 64 credits – will receive $129,387. In the 2014-2015 school year, teacher compensation will be tied to the consumer price index, with raises a minimum of a half percent and a maximum of 2.4 percent.
In a statement released by District 207, MTA president Mike Poehler said: “The Maine Teachers Association negotiations team and our membership at large, recognize the current economic climate and financial realities of the families of our students and community.
"We’ve worked diligently along with the board team to maintain programs that attract and retain quality education professionals to District 207, while making concessions that allow the District to maintain financial strength and stability. The teachers and support staff of District 207 are also often residents, so we are keenly aware of both sides of the financial equations from which the district draws its economic stability.
"The teachers and teacher assistants of Maine Township High School District 207 continually strive to provide a high level of educational excellence of which the residents and students of the community can be proud. We are pleased to have arrived at an agreement that is reflective of this.”
Poehler did not respond to a request for additional comment.