District 47 approves new teachers' union contract

Retirement incentive worries some

CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake School District 47 Board unanimously voted for a new contract with its teachers' union Monday, but not without some reservations about retirement incentives. 

The new three-year contract begins retroactively to the start of the current school year and includes raises in each year starting with a 1.7 percent raise, a 2.3 percent increase in 2014-15 and a 2.4 percent raise in the final year. Teachers pick up more insurance costs with premium increases.

The increases come after the teachers’ union locked into a previous contract that helped bring instruction expenses down from $47.1 million in 2011 to $44.6 million in 2013, according to Illinois Report Card and state board of education records.

"I think the contract is reasonable and it recognizes the value the teachers bring to the community," board president Jeff Mason said. "I commend the teachers that during [negotiations] you kept your eyes in the classroom and your focus where it should be."

While everyone voted in favor of it, two board members had issues with one perk in the contract.

In hopes of saving local money, the contract included a retirement incentive that gives teachers a 6 percent raise in each of their final three years. The school district would replace those higher-paid teachers with lower salaried instructors, saving property tax dollars for residents but potentially shifting the burden to income tax costs at the state level. 

Pension calculations are based on the final four years of service.

Board member Nancy Gonsiorek said the clause was "very, very hard to swallow" and did not believe it was right to "kick the can to Springfield" and shift the tax burden to a different source. 

She estimated that for every five-and-a-half full-time equivalent teaching positions that took advantage of the incentive, $1 million would be added to the state's pension system that is already underfunded. 

"Whether it's property tax or income tax, it all comes back to the taxpayers' pockets," Gonsiorek said. "It's something I want us to be mindful of going forward. ... We can't afford this process."

Like Gonsiorek, board member Ryan Farrell had a tough time approving the contract with the retirement clause, but believed it was a fair contract overall. He, along with the rest of the board, applauded the teachers' union professionalism during the lengthy 14-month negotiation period. 

"I don't like the practice, but I still think the contract as a whole is a responsible one for us," Farrell said. "I would like [the clause] to be on the table the next go-round."

The average teacher salary in the district is roughly $54,000.

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