12 area school districts will have to raise starting teachers' salaries to $40,000 a year

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the most recently available salary data.

Some suburban school districts will have to raise starting salaries by as much as 22% over the next five years to meet a new state minimum pay requirement for educators.

That's according to a Daily Herald analysis of 96 suburban school districts' teacher contracts.

Currently, 12 of the school districts in the analysis have starting salaries below the $40,000 minimum mandated for the 2023-24 school year.

Fox Lake Elementary District 114 has the lowest starting salary among the 96 school districts at $32,341, according to the district's teacher contract. Maine Township High School District 207's current starting salary of $59,517 topped the analysis. On average, the starting salary among the suburban districts is a little more than $45,000 a year. Some districts reported salaries without pension contributions picked up by taxpayers, which will be included in meeting required salary thresholds under the state law, according to teacher union officials.

Eighteen of the districts have starting salaries higher than $50,000 this year. Of those, 13 are high school or unit districts where many teachers might be required to have more specialized or advanced degrees to teach certain subjects.

District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said the performance of students has grown despite a growing number of students from low-income families in the district. Studies have shown students living in poverty often have lower academic achievement than wealthier peers.

“Our student performance is the highest it's ever been by every meaningful measure,” Wallace said. “That is the value of great teachers, and our District 207 teachers are some of the best in the nation.”

Proponents of the mandatory minimum wage see it as a way to make teaching a more attractive occupation and help solve the growing teacher shortage problem in some parts of the state. But critics worry it will start an arms race among school districts that will ultimately result in higher property taxes and set precedents that could result in similar mandated wages for other public-sector jobs.

Meanwhile, many school administrators said it's too early to know what the effects of the new law will be on future teacher contracts.

“The talent follows the money, so I do think it matters, but I don't think it's the only thing that matters,” said Joe Williams, superintendent at Queen Bee Elementary District 16 in Glendale Heights where the starting teacher salary is $48,200 this year. “It's not just the cost of living new teachers are looking at, but the quality of life.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the new law less than two weeks ago setting a minimum wage for educators at specific levels for the next five years, stepping up to $40,000 by the start of the 2023-2024 school year. Subsequent yearly increases in the minimum salaries for teachers are based on the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the legislature.

The first step that schools must meet is a $32,076 minimum salary for the 2020-21 school year, which all 96 of the suburban school districts exceed. Salaries must be $34,576 for the 2021-22 year and $37,076 for the 2022-23 year.

Before the new law, the minimum wage for teachers had been $10,000, according to the Illinois Education Association, though no school district's starting salary was that low. In fact, many downstate school districts' starting salaries are higher than some suburban counterparts.

“It's important that the focus of this minimum wage law is to attract and retain good teachers for the entire state,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “The intent of the bill was not to pit one part of the state against another part of the state. It's to encourage more people to go into the profession.”

Grant Wehrli, a Republican state representative from Naperville who supported the bill, said setting minimum wages for teachers could be a bad precedent resulting in minimum wages for other government jobs.

“That's absolutely something that should be a concern going forward and something I'll be keeping my eye out for,” he said, “but this law (for teachers) was something that is going to help in areas of the state that are struggling right now.”

The schools with starting salaries under $40,000 are:

Cary Elementary District 26, $38,737

Emmons Elementary District 33, $36,720

Fox Lake Elementary District 114, $32,431

Fremont Elementary District 79, $38,344

Gavin Elementary District 37, $35,041

Grass Lake Elementary District 36, $38,617

Grayslake Elementary District 46, $36,690

Lake Villa Elementary District 41, $37,020

Mundelein Elementary District 75, $38,489

Palatine Elementary District 15, $39,902

Wauconda Unit District 118, $39,000

Woodland Elementary District 50, $37,437

Several suburban school districts are going through contract negotiations with the teachers union, leaving officials hesitant to talk about what the new law means for that process. At Woodland Elementary District 50 in Gurnee, the current starting salary is below the $40,000 threshold required in five years, even after pension contributions are factored.

“I can't speak to its impact because we don't want it to have any bearing on our negotiations,” said Chris Bobek, District 50's associate superintendent for business services.

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Starting teacher payHere's a look at the top five and lowest five starting salaries among 96 suburban school districts.

Highest starting salaries

1. Maine Township HS Dist. 207: $59,517

2. Northwest HS Dist. 214: $56,903

3. Leyden HS Dist. 212: $56,104

4. Carol Stream Elem. Dist. 93: $55,751

5. Stevenson HS Dist. 125: $55,360

Lowest starting salaries

1. Fox Lake Elem. Dist. 114: $32,431

2. Gavin Elem. Dist. 37: $35,041

3. Grayslake Elem. Dist. 46: $36,690

4. Emmons Elem. Dist. 33: $36,720

5. Lake Villa Elementary District 41: $37,020

Source: School district teacher contracts

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