Highland Park teachers, board appeal to public
Pamela Kramer, president of the North Shore Education Association, listens to comments during the Sept. 18 meeting of the North Shore District 112 Board of Education. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 16, 2013 4:48PM
HIGHLAND PARK — With a possible teachers’ strike looming, a public relations battle has begun for the sympathies of North Shore District 112 parents, residents and taxpayers. Both the School Board and the teachers’ union are painting a dire picture of what will happen if the other side has its way.
The contract dispute between the North Shore Education Association and the School Board centers exclusively on economic issues — everything from base salary and pay bumps tied to coursework, to pre-retirement pay boosts and health insurance premiums.
Both parties submitted their “final contract offers” to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board last week, as required by a strike timetable, and both provided commentary aimed at swaying public opinion.
The School Board said the district’s ability to provide a quality education going forward would be severely undermined if the district continues on its current course, with an unsustainable pay system that will ultimately deplete the district’s coffers.
The North Shore Education Association, meanwhile, says the district can ill afford to offer a compensation and benefits package that would become the worst among North Shore districts. Were that to happen, teachers would use North Shore District 112 as a gateway job, then take their education and experience to a higher-paying district, they note.
Citizens who addressed the School Board last week pushed for fiscal responsibility but also expressed worry about the lingering impact of a strike.
“It is a red herring to say that acting in a financially responsible manner will turn District 112 into a ‘starter district’ whereby young teachers come only for training,” said Robert Bernat, who contended that fiscal responsibility would attract teachers who could count on their job being there long-term. Like several speakers, Bernat served on the citizen’s finance advisory panel that studied the issue last school year.
“I cannot think of a more valuable way to use my tax dollars than to compensate these teachers for their education,” said parent Becky Mueller, who urged the parties to settle the contract as soon as possible.
Teachers formally declared an impasse Sept. 14, after a third session with a federal mediator two days earlier resulted in little movement, setting into motion a timetable with a cooling-off period before any strike can be called. The next mediation session is Oct. 4. A strike could be called as early as Oct. 12, but the teachers’ union would need to provide 10 days advance notice of its intent to strike.
Late Friday, the School Board posted a 25-page “final offer” document on the district’s website, www.nssd112.org.
“The Board … has determined that it can no longer afford to support a faculty union salary schedule and benefits structure that outpaces its revenue,” read the proposal, which not only detailed the terms, but included a breakdown of how 332 faculty members fared under the last contract that expired Aug. 21.
The School Board is proposing to freeze the salary schedule for two years and instead give teachers a flat $575 this year and $1,000 in 2013-14. The Consumer Price Index, which sets the property tax cap, would determine third-year pay raises.
The board also is proposing drastic changes to the pay upgrades teachers receive for completing additional coursework. The proposed cuts are a sore point with teachers, some of whom borrowed money to pay for their tuition, figuring they’d be able to pay off the debt once the pay upgrade kicked in.
The union’s four-page proposal can be found at http://district112teachers.org.
“We believe that anyone who objectively reviews both parties’ offers will understand that the (teachers’) offer is very reasonable,” said Mark Stein, of the Illinois Education Association. “We have already offered major insurance concessions, while asking for a reasonable pay increase.”
Stein said that instead of attempting to compromise, “the Board has adopted a tea party mentality and has tried to gut the current contract and force teachers to take what will amount to a major cut in pay.”
The union is seeking base and step increases totaling 3.5 percent this year and 3.2 percent next year. Like the School Board, the union would link third-year raises to the Consumer Price Index, but would add in a factor for new construction, since the school district can levy beyond the CPI to capture those dollars.
The School Board is insisting that all pay raises, including those tied to courses, fall within the property tax cap.
However, the union has agreed to limit the number of course-related pay raises to one per school year, except when a teacher completes the requirements for a master’s degree.