And so Hinsdale High School District 86 and the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association (HHSTA) have now published their proposals for all to see (view them at http://hinsdale86.org/Negotiations%20Documents/District%20IELRB%20Response%209%2016%2014.pdf and http://www.hhsta.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/HHSTA-Proposal-9-16.pdf). But these publications are in the form of explanations rather than just laying out the details; that way, theoretically, the uninitiated get some guidance in understanding the ins and outs of what’s being proposed. Unfortunately, those explanations can lead to even more confusion as it’s challenging to separate factual analysis from pure propaganda, especially when most of the presentations fall somewhere between those two extremes. Plus, both sides have carefully selected data which support their views best, leaving out things that they believe would cause observers to see their proposals more negatively. And that’s where I can offer some assistance.
Yeah, I know: you have every right to be skeptical of somebody who was a teacher for thirty-three years (25 of them in District 86) and has written several essays critical of the current board majority. Yes, I was a union activist for most of my career and regularly clashed with both administrators and school board members. There’s no doubt that my sympathies lie with my ex-colleagues in this mess and that I have a clear bias in their favor. But you also have to keep in mind that I negotiated nine different teachers’ contracts in two districts (a couple of times as chief spokesperson for the teachers of District 86) and made it my business to learn state education code, contract language, and school finance so that I could adequately represent my colleagues when negotiations time came. So you can (and should) question whether or not I’m up to being fair in analyzing the two proposals, but you’ve got to concede that I do know a little about this process.
The key to any contract, of course, is money. Unlike most negotiations, however, this one turns on the salary schedule. Most of the time in high school districts around here, the key debating point is how much the base salary (the pay for a first-year teacher with a Bachelor’s degree) goes up. Once that percentage has been determined, the index numbers of the salary schedule take care of the rest. (If I’m already losing you, you might want to take a quick look at https://jamescrandell.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/teacher-salary-schedule-background/, which contains an explanation on how salary schedules work.) Recently, poor financial situations in school districts have led teachers in some districts to agreeing to forego a year or two of steps (increases in the salary schedule based on experience), but in general, the base salary has been the key element to resolving contract negotiations, with the steps being a given.
But that’s not the case here at all. In this instance, the board is offering a base salary in the first year of $54,000, which is more than 3% higher than 2013-14’s $52,397. The HHSTA has proposed a first-year base of $53,002, which is less than 1.2% higher than last year’s base. Both sides are proposing a portion of the consumer price index (CPI) for the next three years, 75% for the board and 85% for HHSTA’s counter offer. Using an assumed CPI of 1.5% for the last three years of the contract, the board is actually offering a higher base all four years of the contract. But that doesn’t factor in the salary schedule, or each teacher earning a full step, which is anything but a given this time.
After initially pushing to eliminate the salary schedule completely, the board has now proposed increasing the salary schedule’s steps from nineteen to thirty-five. The steps determine how long a teacher has to work in a district to reach the top salary, which last year’s schedule would take a teacher nineteen years. With the board’s new schedule, to reach the same dollar amount would take thirty-five years. No teacher would reach peak earnings until very near the end of his/her career. The board is proposing that teachers be placed on the salary schedule based on the step that is nearest to what they made last year (2013-14) and then move to the next step for this year (2014-15). The board has also included language that would make sure that everyone in 2014-15, when the raises could be uneven for teachers based on how they would match up with the new steps, would get at least a 1.7% increase. But from then on, their increase for having taught another year would be roughly half of what it had been under contracts that went back, with some minor adjustments, over 30 years.
HHSTA’s proposal keeps the old salary schedule with nineteen steps, but does make some changes. One of the columns (Bachelor’s degree plus fifteen hours of graduate credit beyond a Bachelor’s) is phased out, with no teachers being able to enter that column unless they are in it as of this school year. Several steps have been eliminated in the Bachelor’s column as well. Both these moves push teachers to get their Master’s degree and would save the district some money.
The district would also save cash with the insurance coverage proposals. The board proposed increasing teachers’ contributions for the cost of health insurance from 13% (for single coverage) or 12% (for family) to 15% in year one, 18% in year two, and 20% in the last two years of the contract, and the HHSTA has agreed to this. How much this increase will cost teachers overall is difficult to say because District 86 is self-insured, meaning that it pays for employees’ medical costs directly instead of buying a policy from an insurance company. So insurance costs vary from year-to-year based on the number of claims filed. Teachers’ contributions to the costs are determined at the start of each calendar year and are based on the the claims history of the previous year. So as of January 1, 2015, coverage for a single teacher would go from $68 per month to $218, and family coverage would increase from $180 to as much as $437.22. In the first calendar year (2015) of the contract, then, teachers would pay $1800 (single) or up to $3,085 (family) more for their insurance than they will have for 2014. Included in that $3,085 is an additional charge the board has put into its insurance proposal, a “spousal” charge. This is a new concept to me, but apparently, teachers who are married would pay an additional $100 or $200 per month based on whether or not their spouses have insurance available through another employer. Spouses who did not have insurance available would be subject to the $100 monthly charge while those who did have insurance options at their place of work would pay $200. The HHSTA has not agreed to this unusual spousal surcharge.
Other money issues include retirement incentives being lowered by half (the HHSTA proposal) or phased out (board), and retiree insurance contribution being raised from 50% (first five years of retirement) and 70% (second five or age 65, whichever happens first) to 70% for all ten years (this has been tentatively agreed to). Additional stipends for coaching, sponsoring an activity, teaching summer school, or working an event by taking tickets or supervising would be frozen at 2013-14 levels for the term of the contract (board proposal) or increased by the same fraction of CPI as the base salary (HHSTA).
Those are the money issues. Now, when you analyze offers from a negotiator’s perspective, you look at things as either an improvement for your group or a concession that helps the other side. And from top to bottom of the teachers’ proposal, the HHSTA has made significant concessions from previous contracts. There’s not a single element of their money proposal that is better than what they’ve had before, and virtually all of it is worse. The base increases are all less than CPI, the salary schedule has been degraded by losing an entire lane plus some steps, insurance payments will go up significantly, and all extra stipends will again be losing ground to inflation by anywhere from 15-25%. Hey, unless I had complete faith that this was the best my negotiators could do (which I do given the current HHSTA negotiators), I would vote against the HHSTA proposal if I were still working there.
The board’s proposal, on the other hand, contains nothing but gain after gain for the district. By increasing the number of steps from 19 to 35, every teacher except those just starting out and those who have already reached the end of the schedule will earn signficantly less than they would have with the old schedule (which is about a ratio of 67% worse off to 33% okay). To illustrate, let’s take three teachers—Teacher 1 just starting out with a Bachelor’s degree, Teacher 2 with five years of experience and a Master’s, and Teacher 3 with ten years in the district and a Master’s plus 60 graduate hours—and see how they would fare under both contract proposals over the four-year term of this contract.
So if the board’s schedule is adopted, the bulk of teachers in District 86 would have a strong incentive to find another place to teach—the longer they stay, the more money they lose compared to their old schedule, not to mention the schedules of every other high school district in the area. Yes, they would still be ahead (in the short term) of high schools in unit districts (like Naperville or Indian Prairie), but Lyons, Downers Grove, Willowbrook, and even Rick Skoda’s old school (Morton) would offer signficantly better pay. Oh, and so would Stevenson, New Trier, Glenbard, Glenbrook, Libertyville, Mundelein, Highland Park, Schaumburg, Hersey, Wheeling, Arlington Heights, Proviso, Niles, Leyden, Homewood-Flossmoor, Reavis, Oak Lawn, Lake Forest…well, you get the idea. As you see from the chart above, every year the board’s new 35-step schedule goes on, the larger the pay differential would become. And it gets even worse the more education the teacher has.
And that’s not even taking into account the additional insurance payments the teachers will have to make under either proposal. From a monetary perspective, the teachers’ proposal has already made significant concessions and is a large step in the board’s direction. The board proposal, on the other hand, gives the teachers virtually nothing compared to their previous contract and will definitely lead to a district that offers significantly less salary than all other high school districts in the area.
Finally, any monetary analysis has to take into consideration what the school district in question can afford. District 86 is in excellent financial shape, beginning the current fiscal year with over $22,000,000 in reserves, despite the board’s refusal to increase its levy by that which the law allowed (1.7%). Knowing it was limiting its revenue in advance of contract negotiations and then claiming that it can’t afford to give its teachers a modest raise would lead many to the conclusion that this board is intent on “winning” this negotiations to the point where it severely weakens the teachers union. As a veteran of many contract negotiations, I would never recommend the board’s proposal to my teachers, especially given the significant concessions already included in the teachers’ offer.
As the possibility of job action by the teachers moves closer, it’s clear from the financial side of the proposals that the board can either graciously accept the teachers’ proposal to minimize the considerable damage already done to District 86’s reputation, or brace for an ugly strike.
Next time, we’ll look at the items in the proposals that don’t involve cash. If you would like to learn more about how unions and school boards interact, check out James Crandell’s eBook, Snowflake Schools, excerpts of which can be found at http://www.snowflake-schools.com/snowflake-schools-the-book.html.