Ongoing saga of CFT contract negotiations

salaries_vs_cpi

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.

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17 Responses to “Ongoing saga of CFT contract negotiations”

  1. Beth V. Says:

    Hey Charles, just to clear a few things up.

    A step increase is ‘an incremental increase in salary based on previous qualifying professional experience.’ You’ll earn more money the longer you stay in the system. Step increases are specifically targeted towards retaining experienced teachers. Teaching is a very difficult profession, especially for newcomers. Experience matters.

    “Nationally, the average turnover for all teachers is 17 percent, and in urban school districts specifically, the number jumps to 20 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2008). The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future proffers starker numbers, estimating that one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years.”

    That is a heck of a lot of turnover. Teachers leave for private schools, where they don’t have so many competing standards tests to teach to and lack of funding, they leave for the private sector, such as training courses for software companies, they just plain switch careers altogether. And with them goes a lot of experience of how to handle a classroom of 20+ kids with disparate abilities, needs and talents, how to navigate bureaucracy, heck even how to work the copy machines and where the emergency stash of pencils are kept. Step increases do not just ‘reward longevity,’ they ensure that that experience is kept within the public school system. And I think we can both agree that experience is important.

    “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.”

    You and everyone else. Unfortunately, noone has yet found a magical system that can truly impartially judge teacher performance, because there are just too many variables at play that are out of a teacher’s control. You can be the best teacher in the world but if one year you have a classroom of superstars who are homework-completing robots and love standardized tests and your test scores go through the roof, then the next year you have a classroom full of kids with various learning disabilities who hate standardized test-taking like the plague and thus your test scores go down, do you get a 3% raise that first year and then dinged the second? What if the budget gets slashed due to an economic downturn and all of your sudden your 16 kid classroom balloons to 34? What about when politicians decide to implement yet another standardized test to evaluate your performance that focuses on completely different things from the last test and your test scores dip as a result? Or there’s a school shooting or a tornado and your kids are still traumatized and their test scores suffer?

    We’ve seen what happens in college classes when students are allowed to evaluate the professors on performance; the ones that are entertaining and give easy A’s get ratings through the roof while the ones that seek to challenge their students with difficult material and who have a zero tolerance policy for cheating get dinged.
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/college-inc/2010/06/study_high-rated_professors_ar.html
    The money quote from that article:
    “The findings are, to say the least, counterintuitive. Professors rated highly by their students tended to yield better results for students in their own classes, but the same students did worse in subsequent classes. The implication: highly rated professors actually taught students less, on average, than less popular profs.
    Meanwhile, professors with higher academic rank, teaching experience and educational experience — what you might call “input measures” for performance — showed the reverse trend. Their students tended to do worse in that professor’s course, but better in subsequent courses. Presumably, they were learning more.”

    I don’t expect sub-18 year olds to be more mature than college kids. Also, experience matters.

    Same issue with parents. Parents who can step back and look at their child dispassionately and with clinical analysis and say ‘yes, my child did deserve that C. versus ‘my child is being unfairly targeted by this teacher because she doesn’t like him’ both get to rate the teacher with the same weight. I also have a hard time asking parents, many of whom have never actually stepped foot into their child’s classroom when class is in session, to judge the performance of their child’s teacher on a job they’ve never actually seen them perform, nor with which the vast majority of them have any experience performing. The public perception of teaching being this easy glorified babysitting job with three months off a year and hours of 9-3 is still quite alive and well (just look at the comments/letters to the editor of any article on the subject, you’ll see them) and doesn’t help, either.

    So that leaves their peers. Who are usually busy running their own classrooms and who don’t have a chance to see how that teacher performs unless they are the ones getting that teacher’s kids from the previous year as they move up. And then you get into all the usual problems of peer review; ‘X and I are friends, I’m not going to say anything bad about her. Y and I have diametrically different styles of teaching and of course I think mine are superior, I’ll ding her because I think she should be doing it MY way, Z is kind of a boring teacher but she always steps up and volunteers for after-school activities and if she goes there goes our underwater basketweaving class and the chess club and my carpool ride so I’ll rate her a little higher.’

    Basically, its all subjective. There is no One True Way to evaluate teachers objectively, because that is not the world we live in. The world we live in is messy and complicated with a million constantly changing variables and there are no easy answers. So the fairest way to do it while still retaining teachers with experience that everyone can at least grudgingly agree to (and that studies have shown have the greatest impact on results) is… step increases.

    Is it ideal? No. But its the best we’ve got.

  2. Beth V. Says:

    Also, in regards to contracts, you said,
    [i]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?[/i]

    You kind of answer your own question here:
    [i] 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?[/i]
    Things can change, sometimes drastically, from year to year, especially now in these uncertain financial times. It makes sense to only shoot for a one-year contract because you don’t want to commit to a 3% raise a year for the next 3 years if, say, it looks like the US is about to default on the national debt and the economy is about to tank. But the teachers also don’t want to lock themselves into no raises for the next three years on the off chance things improve. Yes, negotiation is long, drawn-out and tiresome for all involved. But its better than the alternative.

    [i] 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.[/i]

    No. No no no no no no no. With teacher assessments and no contract, the possibility of dismissing ANY teacher increases. Good or bad. And job insecurity leads to poorer work environments, less pay, and greater amounts of stress. You would see teachers leaving in droves and noone would want to go into the profession. Unions exist for a reason. Contracts exist for a reason. They are very good reasons. I am not going to go into a whole history of the labor movement but if you’re interested you can start with this:
    http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/timeline.html

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      @Beth

      Ok, you have made some solid arguments. I’ll try to respond in a such a way that I don’t make myself look like a fool. 🙂

      In regards to “Steps” and “Lanes”, I have a graph which shows how salaries change year-by-year (ie, steps) per lane – it is actually quite interesting, especially for teachers only with a BA:

      As you can see, there are several cases where a teacher with a BA will not receive a step increase at all. However, the two years before the first drop there is a relatively large increase. These are outliers, and I am not sure why the salary schedule is organized this way. None the less, a BA teacher with less than 15 hours of additional course work will not receive any step increases after year 13. No incentive for retention if there is no interest in taking more classes.

      I cannot argue against your comments on assessing teachers and the need to offer some kind of incentive to build in-system experience. Given that, why has the district initiated a “teacher evaluation tool”? 🙂 I get the impression you would look down upon such a tool.

      To be honest, though, I would really like to hear what teachers think. Do teachers think there is a better way to incentivize loyalty? Or are they happy as peaches with the current Step and Lane method? When it comes down to it, who cares what I think. 🙂 You say teacher assessments and no contracts would lead to a teach-unfriendly environment. What kind of environment do teachers really want? What would attract teachers to our district like bees to flowers?

      And ultimately, how do we best align the utopian optimism with the cold harsh reality we face? I still have not heard from the CFT nor the BOE how they expect to implement raises (whether COLA and/or Step) and retain our financial safety net.

      • grantthomasonline Says:

        I personally don’t think the new teacher evaluation tool is a bad thing, but it does take a conderable ammount of time to complete. I believe the ammount of time invested in it is so that teachers will be assessed fairly, however this is one the many new time consuming tasks that we are being asked to do as teachers.
        As the CFT press release stated: “More is expected out of teachers each year. . . ”
        Like I said, some of things we are being asked to do aren’t necessarily bad, but when more and more is being asked of you, but you aren’t being compensated, its a little harder to swallow.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        @grantthomas: Yeah, just this week our principal is sending home a letter stating that our teachers are having to get used to CCSS (which takes non-teaching time away from teaching time); all the new ways of assessing, reporting, etc. Lots of busy-work.

        You know, I have to wonder, the role of the teacher is morphing before our eyes; how do you see the role of a teacher changing right now? We have all heard of things like Khan Academy which utilize teachers more as facilitators instead of “knowledge dispensers” – how do you react to that? Things like Khan Academy seems to do all the assessing, tracking and reporting via technology, removing that burden from the teacher. But is that a good thing?

      • Beth V. Says:

        You look like a fool? I can’t even keep my tags straight from post to post *grin*. (if you could fix that I’d give you a cookie btw).
        . None the less, a BA teacher with less than 15 hours of additional course work will not receive any step increases after year 13. No incentive for retention if there is no interest in taking more classes.
        I would probably say that’s deliberate. Things change over the years; new discoveries are made, new teaching methods implemented, new studies come out showing how older methods might not be as great as they were first thought or some new teaching method or procedure is showing a lot of promise in X population of students. You want to incentivize your teachers to keep learning themselves, otherwise you end up with a Professor Binns scenario where a teacher uses the same lesson plan they had from 20 years ago or what have you. I don’t have a problem with long-term teachers being required to keep up with their schooling, any more than I would have a problem with doctor’s licenses being contingent on their keeping up with the research in their fields.

        Given that, why has the district initiated a “teacher evaluation tool”? 🙂 I get the impression you would look down upon such a tool.

        Honestly, it feels like a sop to those who complain there should be SOME way to evaluate teacher competencies darn it 😉 Seriously, I can’t fault them for trying, but as mentioned previously, how much can one teacher actually be expected to do outside of actual teaching? They’re already supposed to be teachers, psychologist/psychiatrists who are experts at detecting abuse or neglect in their students and know how to compensate for all the various learning/behaviorally challenged kids in their classes, social workers, after-school club sponsors, members of the PTA, take ongoing courses to constantly improve their knowledge of the latest and greatest research, know and comply with the 56 different sets of standards and practices and testing evaluations and laws with new ones being piled on every year and all the paperwork that goes with them… I often wonder how on earth teachers who have families of their own cope. I can’t really see one parent being a stay at home with the salaries teachers make. Who makes dinner? Who cleans the house and when? When do they get to see their kids or go to the doctor or even sleep?

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        One of the points I wanted to make by displaying the graph is that the salary schedule is whacked. Surely it could be simplified and still accomplish the same thing.

  3. arwen57 Says:

    Could you explain where you got “Beginning Base Salary ($50,000 in 2005) from?

    • arwen57 Says:

      Choosing such a high base salary is a more than a bit misleading. I know it might make the numbers easier, but it is misinforming the public…

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Then give me a good one. 🙂 I have to redo the chart anyway – there is so much missing information that I am just a tad frustrated. Both Unit 4 and the CFT are complaining about numbers being off, but then neither is willing to give me a dataset of real numbers.

        By the way, the average teacher salary reported to the ISBE in 2012 was $50,972.55, with an additional $12,514.34 for benefits (according to the spreadsheet posted on boarddocs – I do not even know what year the salaries are relevant for). That’s not chump change. Unfortunately, even though I have asked for it, I do not have those numbers broken down by COLA or Step/Lane configurations.

        When I talked to Scott MacAdam yesterday, I leaned on him to have the district provide a bunch of fact sheets for all of us. We have way too much drama about this topic and not enough public, objective data. I am sure plenty of folks in the teacher’s union and in the district have access to the raw data, but little non-entities like me are left to grab whatever falls from the table.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    @arwen: actually, that one is pretty easy – I completely made it up. 🙂 I used a nice round number to demonstrate how the percentages stacked up year after year, since I found the raw percentage all by itself to not be very helpful in understanding the effect on raises (at least for me).

    Now to try to tackle Beth’s comments….

  5. grantthomasonline Says:

    Contract negotiations are not just about salaries. There is a lot of contract language being hashed out, too.
    For instance, last year a record high amount of teachers were put on administrative leave after parent complaints.

    The Union has asked the district to revisit their process of reviewing complaints of this nature and to create a re-entry process for when a teacher returns to their classroom after an investigation. The district has stated they are not ready to do that at this time.
    The district can and SHOULD investigate if there are complaints, but I believe there are teachers who are not getting due process.

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    @grantthomas: Thanks for pointing out that the negotiations also include the nuances of language and procedures. Parents like me do not usually understand that ball of wax too much, but I can see how it would be very important for teachers.

    Why is the re-entry process so hard for the district to swallow? What you describe sounds disturbingly like “guilty until proven innocent” which is never a good stance to take.

    • grantthomasonline Says:

      I am not sure why the district does not want to revisit this issue. I think that is where a lot of teachers feel disrespect from the administration.
      I don’t know much about the Khan Academy. I’ve had a constructivist model of education since I began teaching 9 years ago and I believe most of my colleagues would say the same if you asked them.
      I can’t speak to much about tracking data, because I am an art teacher and most of my assessments are not something that people pay too much attention to. I am much more free than my fellow teachers in traditional classrooms because the state doesn’t create as many mandates for art teachers.

  7. Karen Says:

    ‘a record high amount of teachers were put on administrative leave after parent complaints.’

    Perhaps they remained on Admin Leave because of District policy concerning the matter. Law enforcement can determine criminal findings, but, they don’t make determinations concerning district policy violations beyond that, do they? Was due process followed according to written district policy at the time? If not, were avenues of recourse pursued? ‘A record high amount put on admin leave’ does not necessarily mean a problem. Perhaps it’s a sign of better responsiveness by Admin to problems in the schools. It sure beats their doing nothing. I think it’s a sign of progress that parents are now better able to access formal complaint documents and pursue the process on behalf of their children. Is district policy written into teacher contracts? I really don’t know how this all works. Is this how district policy is determined as it relates to employees–through contract negotiations?

  8. On the quest for facts (context: CFT contract negotiations) | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] This document forms the basis of the now-infamous chart from a previous blog post, “Ongoing saga“. True to the title, it also provides some perspectives and concessions on behalf of the […]

  9. charlesdschultz Says:

    I have asked directly (ie, outside this blog, which I would consider indirect) for all the real facts concerning historical teacher salaries several times, and still I do not have a full picture:
    October 11th – BOE, Matt Foster, Cathy Mannen
    October 7th – Stephanie Stuart, Matt Foster
    October 5th – Stephanie Stuart, Matt Foster, Cathy Mannen
    October 5th – phone call with Scott MacAdam
    October 4th – phone call with Lynn Stuckey

    So what do I do with that? All I can do is wait…..


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