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updated: 2/29/2012 6:26 PM

Contract agreement in Oak Brook District 53

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It took more than a year of sometimes difficult talks, but teachers and Oak Brook's Butler Elementary District 53 school board have agreed on a three-year contract that expected to be finalized later this month.

The pact, approved Tuesday by the union representing the district's 49 teachers, calls for 2.3 percent raises in the first year, 2.8 percent in the second and 3.3 percent in the third. It will run through June 30, 2014.

The Oak Brook Education Association had been seeking salary increases of 3.3 percent in the first year of the agreement and 3.8 percent in each of the next two.

The contract, to be approved by the school board March 12, will be retroactive to August. Teachers will receive a lump-sum payment to make up for the money they lost while working under the terms of their old agreement, which expired last summer, school board President Alan Hanzlik said Wednesday.

The two sides held roughly two dozen bargaining sessions in the past year, including several meetings with a federal mediator. They reached agreement on 26 or 27 open issues but declared an impasse in January when they couldn't come to terms on salaries.

"We told them we were at our top salary level and we were not going to go up any further unless they provided offsetting costs," Hanzlik said.

The breakthrough apparently came last week when the school board presented a new offer that provided a bonus for veteran teachers at the top of the salary scale.

They will receive a $500 cash payment in the first year, $500 plus a -percent salary increase in the second and $1,000 plus a 1 percent increase in the third.

In exchange, Hanzlik said, the union made two concessions.

First, it agreed to eliminate a provision that newly hired teachers with up to five years experience must be placed on the salary schedule with the exact number of years of their prior service. Under the new agreement, the district will have the flexibility to slot such teachers on the salary schedule as it sees fit.

The union also agreed to a 50-50 share with the district of any insurance cost increases up to 10 percent. If insurance costs threaten to increase by more than 10 percent, Hanzlik said the union agreed to take steps, possibly to include increased co-pays or deductibles, to limit those increases.

Butler is a high-performing district that serves 435 students at Brook Forest Elementary and Butler Junior High. Its teachers are among the state's highest paid, with an average salary of $83,834 a year and an average annual compensation package of $98,958.

Teachers last year received raises of 4.3 percent after receiving 6.9 percent raises in each of the five previous years.

Union President Andrew Griffith said Wednesday the teachers aren't thrilled with the new contract but are ready to put the lengthy talks behind them.

"Although the vote was far from unanimous," he said, "we are prepared to move forward with the same professionalism which we have maintained throughout this arduous process."

Hanzlik said school board members are happy with the agreement.

"I'm satisfied that it's fair for the school district and it's fair for the teachers," he said.

Hanzlik said the district will be able to handle the increased contract costs within the confines of its budget.

"We have a good reserve fund," he said, "but it's our responsibility to maintain that strong financial footing."

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