CRYSTAL LAKE – Charles McBarron is certain the uncertainty at the state level when it comes to funding education and pensions results in a near certainty – difficult negotiations between teachers unions and school boards.
McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, said that while he does not know the details of the ongoing negotiations between Community High School District 155 and its teachers union, contract negotiations around the state have become more difficult as the state wavers on funding schools and addressing pension issues.
Teachers in District 155 have been working without a contract since July 1.
“Illinois is at or near the bottom of funding public education and that lack of support certainly makes contract negotiations far more difficult,” McBarron said. “But the key thing in all negotiations are teaching and learning conditions. And teaching conditions are the students’ learning conditions, so they go hand in hand.”
McBarron said because teacher contracts are negotiated at the local level, many can be significantly different from others and still fair depending on that area’s condition.
A comparison of District 155 to others in the county and state show the realities do differ.
A history of financial information, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card, shows that average teacher salaries have continually increased to the current $94,866 level in District 155, but administrative spending is not as high as it was in previous years.
However, department chairman salaries are included in the teacher average salaries for District 155 – a rare reporting practice that will end in 2014.
The general administration spending at $1.19 million is at its lowest level since 2005, when it was $1.14 million. Tax rates also are lower than in past years when it peaked in 2002 at $2.18 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.
When it comes to the two other high school districts in McHenry County, District 155 tops the list in both average teacher salary and student achievement based on state standards.
Marengo Community High School District 154 has an average teacher salary of $69,174, and McHenry Community High School District 156 has an average salary of $72,196.
But when it comes to students meeting or exceeding state standards, District 154 has 63.2 percent of its students hitting the mark while District 156 has 57.4 percent – 10 percentage points lower than District 155’s 67.9 percent.
Tax rates are slightly higher in District 154, where the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $1,152 to the district with a homestead exemption, but lower in District 156, where the same homeowner would pay $972. In District 155, that homeowner would pay $1,146.
With District 156 operating two high schools and District 154 running only one, the three other high school districts in Illinois with four high schools are more comparable in size to District 155.
Those three districts – Bremen Community High School District 228, Glenbard Township High School District 87 and Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 – show differences on both sides of the financial spectrum.
Bremen has slightly lower average salaries at $90,032, but far lower student scores with 41.2 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. Tax payments also are higher, with the $200,000 home owner paying $1,896.
On the other side, Lincoln-Way has lower average salaries, lower property taxes and better student scores compared with District 155.
Lincoln-Way teachers in suburban Will County are paid $82,262 on average and 72.1 percent of students meet or exceed state standards. The owner of a $200,000 home pays $966.
Justin Hubly, president of the District 155 teachers’ association, pointed to the difference in experience and number of faculty with advanced degrees as a key factor in the gap. Eighty-eight percent of District 155 faculty have master’s degrees compared with 72 percent at Lincoln-Way.
“The data make me think they have a younger, less experienced staff than we do, which can lead to lower costs,” Hubly said. “I’m much more concerned about ... other Lake [and] northern Cook districts poaching our best teachers.”
Districts such as 211 in Palatine and 214 in Arlington Heights are close to Crystal Lake and pay higher average salaries.