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updated: 2/21/2013 9:53 PM

Contract, compromises approved in West Chicago Dist. 33

W. Chicago elementary school board, teachers finalize deal

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The West Chicago Elementary District 33 school board approved a three-year contract with its teachers union Thursday, officially ending 16 months of often bitter contract talks that included a three-day strike.

The new pact, retroactive to Sept. 1, includes compromises on salaries and health benefits and creates committees to address two other issues not mentioned in the contract.

Details of the agreement were made public for the first time after the board's ratification by a 6-0 vote.

Board members say the deal is fiscally responsible and saves the district $2 million compared to the previous contract.

"We had two objectives when we went into the negotiations," school board spokesman Dave Barclay said. "One was to control our costs for this contract period. I think that was our primary initiative. The other was to address structural issues to be flexible going forward."

Chief union negotiator Mary Catherine Kosmach said the teachers proposed many of the eventual compromises long before going on strike from Feb. 4 to 6.

"We believe this could have been solved without going on strike, but we went on strike and it's done," Kosmach said. "It will take time to heal."

According to a summary of the agreement, compromises on salaries and health insurance go into effect in August and next January, respectively, giving teachers small raises in their base pay the next two years, but in some cases requiring them to begin contributing more toward their health insurance.

A compromise on retirement incentives begins this year, as does a compromise on teacher appraisal methods, which will be implemented gradually.

Two new committees of teachers and administrators will explore ways to increase parent involvement and study extending the school day. Kosmach said the union proposed the topics because teachers want to foster more parent input and make sure plans for a longer school day are implemented properly.

The contract addresses salaries with changes to the so-called step schedule, which sets the amount of time it takes for teachers to reach the top pay for their education through automatic raises.

The step schedule is being extended to 18 years from 12 years, and automatic pay increases will be about 3 percent a year beginning this fall. The changes find middle ground between the board's proposal of extending the schedule to 24 years and offering 2.25 percent annual raises, and the union's suggestion of an 18-year schedule with 3.6 percent annual pay increases.

Barclay said teachers will be placed on the new schedule based on their current pay, which is frozen this year.

All teachers will receive a 0.75 percent increase to their base salary in the 2013-14 school year and a 1 percent increase to their base pay in the 2014-15 year.

Kosmach said the only teachers receiving raises this year are those who earned a master's degree or credits toward a master's.

Health insurance changes under the new contract begin Jan. 1, 2014.

At that time, employees on a low-deductible PPO will begin contributing 30 percent of the premium instead of 20 percent. They also will see increases in co-pays, a decrease in coinsurance, and increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket payments. Employees also will be asked to work with the board to educate staff members about wellness.

Teachers with families who choose a certain HMO plan will be required to contribute 25 percent of the premium beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and continuing into the third year of the contract. Teachers on other health plans will continue to pay 20 percent of the premium throughout the contract and dental plans will remain unchanged, according to the contract summary.

The contract changes the structure of retirement incentives to save on pensions, Barclay said. Teachers who retire beginning at the end of this year will be paid a post-retirement stipend of $700 for every year they taught full-time. That stipend will replace 6 percent raises given in each of the four years leading up to a teacher's retirement.

Kosmach said the union proposed the stipends late last summer because members realized the pre-retirement raises were not sustainable.

Barclay said the stipends will not be factored into a teacher's pension as pre-retirement raises were, which saves the district money.

The contract eliminates a practice of reimbursing retired teachers $150 a month for health insurance costs from retirement until they turn 65.

A final compromise addresses teacher appraisals, which are required to include student performance as a measure of teacher success under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act.

"We retained what teachers felt were process safeguards" by including a section on appraisals in the contract, Barclay said.

Teachers will be evaluated by a principal or administrator, and student performance gradually will be factored into their reviews, which Barclay said now focus more on teaching methods. Student performance will affect appraisals beginning in fall 2015 or fall 2016, depending on standardized test scores.

Barclay said the union dropped its request for a cap on class sizes, which average 25 students, but range from 15 to 30 throughout the district.

Contract: Union dropped request to cap class sizes

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