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posted: 2/13/2012 5:00 AM

Lessons from two DuPage teacher contracts

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

This is a tale of two suburban school district contract negotiations.

Last week, the West Chicago High School District 94 board approved a contract that called for 1 percent raises in each of the first two years and a return to talks in the third year.

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The same day, the Daily Herald reported an impasse farther east in DuPage County at Oak Brook's Butler Elementary District 53. At Butler, the union is asking for 3.3 percent raises in year one and 3.8 percent increases for years two and three. The board is offering 2.3 percent the first year, 2.8 percent the second year and 3.3 percent the third year.

But in Oak Brook's District 53, union members got average increases of 4.3 percent last year and 6.9 percent in each of the previous five years, said school board President Alan Hanzlik.

That salary increase history is simply jaw-dropping in a Great Recession. It's astonishing to think those kinds of increases were agreed to by school officials even before the recession hit.

Hanzlik told City Editor Bob Smith that teacher pay in District 53 is in "the top one-tenth of 1 percent of 3,200 elementary and middle schools in the state."

Andrew Griffith, the union president in the Oak Brook district, argues the difference between the union and board offers comes down to a total of $160,000 over the three years.

While Hanzlik said the average teacher salary is $83,834 without benefits, Griffith said most union members still make less than that. With benefits, Hanzlik said the average compensation rises to $98,958.

The most recent state school report card data for 2009-2010 showed the average teacher salary in Oak Brook's Butler at $83,575, while in West Chicago it was $71,901, a difference of $11,674.

In West Chicago's District 94, the deal for 1 percent raises came after 11 months of negotiations.

In Oak Brook's District 53, the board and union members have bargained 24 times and agreed on 26 out of 27 issues for the three-year contract. They've met with a federal mediator three times.

In West Chicago's District 94, there also are no so-called "step" increases in the new pact to reward experience.

In Oak Brook's District 53, the contract plans still include "step" increases common in Illinois, but the steps stop after 20 years. So, a teacher with 35 years experience is paid roughly the same as one with 20.

Clearly, West Chicago's high school district and Oak Brook's elementary district are vastly different in many ways.

Nonetheless, it would seem West Chicago High School District 94's teachers are doing right by their students, parents and taxpayers. Oak Brook Elementary District 53 union members ought to take a lesson from this tale.

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