I like graphs. I like information, facts and data. Unfortunately for me, it is hard to find hard data when I read through what the Board of Education (BOE) and the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) are putting out in the public sphere in regards to the ongoing teacher contract negotiations.
According to a table generated by the CFT, teacher salaries have not kept up with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) since the 2nd half of 2005 (ie, the 2005-2006 school year). I do not yet have any figures that go back further – this is all I got.
You can download an excel spreadsheet I used to generate the graph by clicking on the graph above.
As noted by the recent press releases from both the BOE and the CFT (and also on the CFT Facebook page), there is significant confusion about what exactly a “raise” is. First there is the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA); the BOE initially offered 0%, .5% and .5% for the next three years, but revised that to 1.3% each of the next three years, according to an informational session with the CFT (as shown in the graph). The BOE also offered 1.7% “step” raises (only for teachers with less than 22 years of experience) in their final offer which they perceive as further increasing the teacher’s salary for a total of 3% each year for three years (this information is NOT reflected in the graph above). The CFT is asking for a 3.65% base salary raise for one year, and a “step increase” (meaning that each teacher moves up one step).
Raise your hand if you are confused.
I have tried to talk to both “sides” and have requested more facts and numbers to help clear things up. For instance, I have asked the district for “step” and “lane” figures to augment teacher salary information. I have asked both the BOE and the CFT exactly how they would rearrange the budget to make their offers work. Even in that, I hear confusing information. For instance, the CFT claims that the BOE has $24 million to throw around. A board member reminded me that $12 million of that is in the Working Cash Bond Fund, which by law cannot be used to pay teachers (it can be used for Operations, Maintenance and Capital Projects). The other $12 million is a rainy day safety net built up by Gene Logas over the previous 8 years or so to comply with the best practice of keeping a 20% fund balance ratio. So…. if nothing else in the budget changes and we start dipping into the cash fund, doesn’t that mean it will dry up in a few short years? And then what?
But here is what really bothers me the most about this situation. From my perspective, it looks like the BOE and the CFT are drawing battle lines, tossing press releases left and right to point out problem areas. The CFT has held an information session, and I am told that the BOE is forbidden by law to follow suite. Why? Which law exactly says that? I am hearing stories from parents (please check out the Champaign Parents for Teachers, aka CP4T, facebook page) that parents are getting a really bad rub from the BOE President. Why? I observe the teachers and parents rallying together, AGAINST the BOE, writing letters to the BOE and the NG, making phone calls, using social media, etc. It is awesome to see parents and teachers come together, but it is horrible to see the BOE on the other side of that. This is a classic “missed opportunity” on the part of the BOE.
I still have outstanding questions to the CFT as well. First, I LOVE that we do reward teachers; based on my own experience, I have witnessed teachers who work many hours and do an excellent job of teaching kids. However, I do not like that we reward teachers purely for longevity. Personally, I would like to completely do away with this “step” thingy and replace it with a system that truly assess teacher performance and offers a reasonable incentive based on that assessment. I confess, I do not know exactly how to assess teachers, but it seems to me that students, parents and peers should have some kind of input.
Also, I do not like that the CFT is asking only for a one-year contract. That means, just like last year and now this year, we get to do all this negotiation crap next year. Whose brilliant idea was that? A couple readers have suggested to me that the CFT should do away with contracts altogether; as I think about it, that starts to make a lot of sense to me. I realize this might be scary for teachers, and for that I apologize – it is truly not my intent to scare teachers. With teacher assessments and no contract, the possibility of dismissing a poorly performing teacher increases. But here is what I want to focus on – what if we had a district full of highly performing teachers?
Yes, I realize this is “pie in the sky” and requires a lot of trust. I further realize that the “fund balance of trust” is running at record lows – the bucket is nearly empty. So I implore the Board (again) to focus on reinforcing their reserves of trust as a high priority item.
Keep in mind that we are also in the middle of “talking” about a future high school site, which would imply a future referendum. Not to mention the possibility of additional referendums to deal with other capacity issues at the middle school and elementary levels. I don’t see how those referendums will pass if the community has a general bad taste in their mouth.
We have heard “It’s about the kids.” So now I am really curious, what do the kids want? Or an even more mysterious question, what do the kids need?
PS – if I have misstated any facts or figures, or even if I left out pertinent, critical pieces of information, please let me know so I can correct this post and make it as accurate as possible.