Wheeling District 21 employees to get 4.5% raises under new contract

Wheeling Township Elementary District 21's 800 unionized employees will receive raises of 4.5% in the coming school year under the terms of a new contract set to take effect in August.

That includes teachers, teacher assistants, secretaries, registered nurses, therapists, social workers, psychologists and custodians.

The district will continue to cover employees' contributions to pensions - in the Teachers' Retirement System and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund - but for the first time, those contributions are being added to each staff member's base salary, district officials said.

The new five-year contract, unanimously approved by the school board this month and ratified by union membership, calls for base salary increases of 5% in the 2023-2024 school year.

For employees making less than $125,000, raises for the last three years of the contract will be tied to the Consumer Price Index - with a floor of 2% and ceiling of 3.75% - plus 1.5%.

For employees making more than $125,000, annual raises for the last three years will be $3,000.

According to the State Board of Education's Illinois Report Card data, the average annual salary of a District 21 teacher in 2021 was $90,945.

That average was $70,653 statewide. It was $75,849 in neighboring Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, $70,819 in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23, and $84,031 in Aptakisic-Tripp Elementary District 102, report card data show.

Micheal DeBartolo, District 21's assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the increased salaries this year are expected to cost the district less than 4.5% over the previous year's salaries due to recent retirements and others who are leaving the district.

The 88-page contract - effective Aug. 1 through July 31, 2027 - was hashed out over the course of seven all-day meetings beginning last December.

"We worked together, in good faith, to secure the needs of our staff to allow for a better educational experience for all," said Greg Piecuch, a teacher who is the District 21 Education Association president.

"The candor, mutual respect and care expressed at the negotiating table by the DEA leaders and their membership underscores the commitment of our staff to students, families and the community," Superintendent Michael Connolly said.

The new contract establishes professional learning councils and team leaders at each school, replacing the current building council model. District officials said they believe the new model substantially will change how local decisions are made at each building.

District 21 has nine elementary schools, three middle schools and an early childhood school serving residents in portions of Wheeling, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Northbrook.

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