West Chicago teachers could soon vote to ratify tentative contract

 
 
Updated 2/16/2018 6:51 PM
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  • Teachers, parents and students march from West Chicago High School to District 94 offices Thursday in advance of a last-ditch negotiating effort that resulted in a tentative contract agreement.

      Teachers, parents and students march from West Chicago High School to District 94 offices Thursday in advance of a last-ditch negotiating effort that resulted in a tentative contract agreement. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

West Chicago High School teachers will meet Wednesday to consider a tentative contract agreement reached hours before union members were poised to walk off the job Friday.

The proposed 4-year contract will increase salaries an average of 12.63 percent.

Teachers will make no decision Wednesday but could ratify the deal in the next 10 days, union President Brad Larson said. A simple majority of the union's 141 members is needed to approve it.

"I have no concerns about the tentative agreement being ratified," Larson said.

The turnaround came after nearly two years at the table and about a month after the union declared an impasse in contract talks.

The two sides announced the breakthrough after a nearly five-hour session Thursday night.

Larson said a new salary structure made the difference. The school board previously sought a formula-based structure tied to the Consumer Price Index.

"We're satisfied with the settlement. It lays a foundation for achieving the goals we set out, particularly those related to the district being able to hire and retain teachers over the long-term," Larson said.

The agreement boosts teacher pay an average 3.52 percent in the first year, 2.73 percent in the second, 2.91 percent in the third and 2.92 percent in the fourth. Those raises encompass base salary increases and so-called step increases tied to a teacher's length of service. Teachers also receive increases based on their education.

A teacher with a bachelor's degree and no previous experience hired this year would make $42,932 in the first year of the contract, retroactive to August. That salary would increase to $46,587 in the final year.

Despite the agreement, Larson and school board President Gary Saake said relationships remain strained.

"They came to us with a proposal with more than 20 pages of concessions they were asking for and most of those things ... eventually got taken off the table by the board of education," Larson said.

Saake also was frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations that began in April 2016.

He said he hopes the two sides can come together for a "debriefing" on the process.

"It's an exhausting, stressful situation," Saake said. "I think people need to really take a breath, relax a little bit and let's get it ratified and approved, and then maybe it's time to start thinking about how we go forward."

Teachers agreed to provisions to phase out a retirement incentive that gives them a 6 percent salary bump in their final four years of employment, Saake said. The district will eliminate the incentive when the contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 school year. The two sides also agreed to sunset a provision that pays insurance benefits for retirees until they qualify for Medicare.

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