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posted: 4/8/2012 5:00 AM

COD-faculty dispute takes on a life of its own

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Early this year, I relayed the story of how I suggested to group of suburban school superintendents many years ago that contract talks between the administration and faculty be conducted in sessions open to the press and public. You'd have thought I had endorsed child abuse.

That anecdote was the stepping-off point for a couple of instances in which details of teacher contract negotiations became public knowledge. Not from a conscious decision by anyone to suddenly be transparent, mind you, but because of a new state law. It requires school negotiators who have reached an impasse to post their final and best offers on a state website. It was from this website we learned the details of a contract disagreement that led to a four-day strike in Zion-Benton, that teachers in Cary Elementary District 26 had accepted 3 percent pay cuts, and that teachers in an Oak Brook elementary district with average salaries of $83,834 a year were asking for raises of 3.3, 3.8 and 3.8 percent for a three-year contract.

Today, we have a situation in which negotiations have plodded on for 13 months, but an impasse has not been declared. Of their own volition, though, the two sides have talked extensively about the sticking points in contract talks between the College of DuPage administration and its faculty. Bear in mind, each side has accused the other of breaking the agreement not to talk publicly about the dispute, but the net result has been some unusual candor about what's holding things up.

As our COD reporter Chris Placek reported this past week in a recap of the key issues, the administration says it has offered raises of 2.85, 3.15, 3.55 and 4.15 percent for the next four years. In turn the college is asking faculty members for some significant givebacks: lower pay for teaching in the summer, which union officials say most instructors have come to rely on as a source of annual income, and an increase in the number of hours faculty members are required to put in teaching lab or studio classes.

Placek's story noted that it was pegged on a discussion among President Robert Breuder, other college leaders and members of our editorial board. The meeting was requested by Breuder, who came armed with an array of handouts that homed in on some prevailing themes:

• Twenty-eight percent of COD professors make $150,000 or more each year. (That's their total compensation, which includes pay for teaching overloads and extra assignments.)

• COD faculty are the highest paid in the state, with an average base salary of $92,598. (That's based on 2009 figures; the college says the figure today is closer to $100,000.)

But, as Placek's story also pointed out, the meeting was much about Breuder's philosophy that schools need to be run like a businesses or we're all in big trouble. He repeatedly mentioned that contrary to what he's been accused of, he does not disrespect the faculty. But he is quick to point out that through years of giving in to the squeakiest wheel of employee groups in contract negotiations, the college has created an ivory tower of entitlement and that he's the heavy who has to change the culture.

It's important to note that faculty leaders are disputing some of the college's numbers, and in the interest of fairness we'll be having them in this week to meet with the editorial board.

And while these negotiations have turned into a contentious process, with faculty supporters attending college board meetings, carrying signs and creating almost a '60s-era protest vibe, I'd suggest that the level of detail that has emerged is something that we ought to see from all of our schools.

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