Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 and the bargaining unit representing about 730 of its employees have reached agreement on a four-year contract that gives a different health insurance program for new employees while freezing the starting salary for new teachers and reducing their financial incentive to obtain additional education.
Daniel Schuler, the district's assistant superintendent for planning, labeled the contract "two tier," while Kevin Olsen, president of the District 21 Education Association, shied away from that term, noting that in the second year of employment new teachers will receive the same salary increases as other instructors.
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Olsen said the bargaining team worked hard to avoid having different salary schedules for new and existing staff, which could be "potentially divisive for the organization."
The board of education approved the contract unanimously, and 94 percent of the DEA members voted in favor, according to a statement from the district.
The contract covers about 530 certified staff such as teachers, 120 educational support staff including teaching assistants and secretaries, and 80 custodial and maintenance staff.
Certified staff will earn a 4.2 percent base salary increase for 2014-15 and a 3.25 increase for the next year. The increase will range between 3 and 4.25 percent the final two years.
Employees in the other two groups will receive base increases of 2.2 percent for next school year and 2 percent more for the following year. The last two years will give them an increase of about 2.4 percent.
The contract eliminates the traditional "step" schedule for teachers that provided raises for each year of service in addition to negotiated salary increases.
While teachers still will receive raises for educational advancement, some of those steps have been cut, too, said Schuler, and new teachers will not have as many increases.
Olsen said DEA leadership has been working for five years to change the salary schedule to make increases more consistent rather than have some certified staff getting large increases for another year of employment while others got very small ones.
Newly hired employees will have insurance that pays 80 percent of in-network costs and 60 percent out of network. Those figures are 100 percent and 80 percent for existing employees. Both will pay a higher share of the premium, Schuler said.
Olsen said keeping the existing insurance program was very important to his members.
"We did a lot to take care of our current members with an eye toward the future of the district as a whole," he said.
Schuler, who hopes the contract will be available to the public by the end of this week, said it is difficult to estimate the deal's total financial impact on the district.
"There are a lot of moving pieces with this contract. We are not necessarily sure how many new hires there will be in a particular year and over four years," he said. "The thing we do know (is) there will be cost savings achieved with each new hire."
The salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree will be $42,735 for the entire four years of the contract, Schuler said.
Olsen pointed out that the salary schedule was frozen or increased very slightly during the four years of the previous contract, so the new contract will not be much different for starting teachers.
District 21 educates about 7,000 students in 12 schools serving Wheeling and parts of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Northbrook and Prospect Heights.