Teachers feeling 'a lot of frustration' in Dist. 204
Frustrations over past pay freezes and increasing demands in education apparently are surfacing as teachers in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 twice have rejected tentative contract agreements between their union bargaining team and the district.
But the latest rejection, which came late last week, isn't a sign of a disconnect between the district's teachers and their leadership, union President Paul Gamboa said.
"I don't feel that at all," he said Tuesday. "We had a pretty clear mandate with what they thought we needed to go back for."
The teachers' votes to reject proposed contracts in May and again this month instead reflect their dissatisfaction with salaries that were frozen at times during the recession and additional testing that cuts into instructional time.
"Our vote reflects a lot of frustration with the current state of education and that there have been pay freezes several times," Gamboa said. "The job continues to get more demanding."
Against that backdrop, Gamboa and a bargaining team of nine teachers -- three each from the elementary, middle and high school levels -- have been working with administrators to replace a contract that expired at the end of June for the union's 2,100 members. A two-year proposal that would have included raises in both years but eliminated post-retirement insurance and the 6 percent raises teachers typically receive at the end of their careers was rejected by 85 percent of union members in May.
A three-year proposed deal that would have provided an average 3.2 percent salary increase the first year, an average 2.07 percent increase the second year and an average 2.08 percent increase in the third met its demise last week when 57 percent of teachers opposed it.
Under the current teacher contract, a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree is paid $43,170 a year and a teacher with 23 years experience and a Ph.D is paid $106,966.
School board President Lori Price said she's disappointed the second proposal didn't win approval, but she sees the decreasing margin of rejection as a positive sign.
"In the second vote, we closed the gap on that," Price said. "We're going to proceed and go forward in hopes we'll have a successful agreement soon."
Despite months of negotiations and two failed tentative agreements, both sides say they're maintaining a collaborative relationship.
"The great thing is we have a great relationship with our (teachers) association," school board member Mark Rising said.
"We have no reason to believe collaboration can't continue," Gamboa said.
For now, the ball is in the union's court to tell administrators what else needs to be addressed before a new contract can be reached. Then the school board can set new parameters for administrators to follow during negotiations.
"Right now we're waiting to hear some feedback," Price said.
Gamboa said he'll meet Thursday with the union's executive board of about seven teachers elected by their peers to develop a plan for next steps. Those could include conducting a second survey to find out what else members are seeking in a deal or scheduling a new round of talks with the district, which serves roughly 28,500 students from parts of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.