LEAD 300, the Illinois Education Association affiliate that represents public school teachers in Carpentersville Community Unit School District 300 schools, has called a strike this morning, and the district has announced that classes are cancelled.
The main sticking point in the strike appears to be class sizes. In the last best offers for both sides the union and the administration were reasonably close to agreement on most other issues. There were differences on salary, but both sides proposed annual increases in the range of 2 to 3 percent; in year one the board’s proposal was actually higher than the union’s. This would be on top of regular step increases that teachers routinely receive as they gain seniority. Once the union dropped its earlier demands for across-the-board pay hikes in the range of 4 to 5 percent, this should have been something that the two sides could work out. A similar story holds on most other economic issues, such as health insurance.
There is a more significant difference on end-of-career salary increases. Both contracts allow for a certain amount of salary spiking, which has the effect of increasing final average pay; the increases start with a teacher giving four years notice of intent to retire. This in turn increases the teacher’s annual pension after he or she retires. Both the union and the district agree to allow teachers who give notice of retirement in the 2012-13 school year (meaning they will quit after the 2016-17 school year) the state-allowed maximum of 6 percent pay increases for each of the four years. But after 2013 the school district wants to reduce the end-of-career pay hikes to 3 percent per year, while the union insists on 4-percent increases. Because these pay hikes are cumulative and compounding, this is a fairly substantial cost for the district. The current state-run teacher pension system is in extremely poor condition, and proposals have been made to make school districts shoulder more of the cost of teacher pensions, which explains why District 300 is seeking to limit these end-of career pay hikes.
There is also the issue of class sizes. The district is willing to add new class-size limits in elementary grades, something that did not exist in prior contracts. The union’s final offer called for class or teaching load limit (total number of students a teacher has in his or her classes during the course of a day) at all levels, from Kindergarten to senior year of high school. The union’s final proposal also calls for bonus payments ranging from $390 (in grades K-5) to $65 (in middle school and high school) for every extra student a teacher is assigned.
The union’s strict student limits involve serious risks for the school district, which will be forced to maintain staff even if it loses funding. With 14.5 percent of District 300’s funding coming from the financially challenged state, the district is wise to be cautious in terms of committing itself to class-size limits.