The head of the teachers union in Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 said Wednesday that union members feel a new sense of optimism in the wake of recent contract negotiations.
The talks, which were sometimes contentious, lasted for nearly a year. They came to a successful close last month, when the union and the school board approved a four-year contract.
"Teachers feel like we have more of a voice in the district now," said Michelle Walsh, president of the Mount Prospect Education Association and the learning resource director at Lincoln Middle School. "And I think our relationship with the central district administration and the school board is stronger because of the whole experience."
The contract boosts teachers' base salaries each year of the deal -- by 3 percent the first year, 2 percent the second and 1 percent the third and fourth. It also provides for step increases of 3 percent each year. As has been the case in past contracts, the current one calls for the district to cover teachers' contributions to the Teachers' Retirement System, not to exceed 9.4 percent of their salaries. If teachers' contributions are raised above that level, the difference will come from the teachers' pay.
The contract also addresses some of the teachers' concerns about professional development and new state laws governing teacher evaluations, Walsh said.
"There is a lot going on in public education right now, and we wanted to make sure we were staying ahead of the curve," she said. "The contract doesn't do everything we wanted, but we're satisfied with it."
Walsh said she thinks the district understands the teachers' concerns on those issues better now than when negotiations got under way last spring. At the same time, the union developed a better understanding of the district's obligations to its constituents, she said.
"It wasn't that we didn't know that the board has to be fiscally responsible," she said. "We knew that. But over the course of these talks, I think we grew to understand the board's obligations even more."
The approval of the new contract certainly lifts a weight off teachers' shoulders, Walsh said, but she's quick to point out that the prolonged talks did not distract teachers from their jobs.
"We weren't bringing that into the classroom," she said. "It was a relief when the deal was reached, yes, but we remained committed all along to educating District 57 students, and we'll continue that going forward."