DeKALB – After months of negotiations and working under an expired contract since Aug. 15, the DeKalb Classroom Teachers’ Association has a new contract, thanks to an almost unanimous vote of approval by the DeKalb School District 428 Board.
When reached for comment after Tuesday’s board meeting, T.J. Fontana, spokesperson for the association and a math teacher at DeKalb High School, said he was relieved that deliberations have come to a conclusion.
“I’m really glad that it’s all wrapped up, it was a really long and difficult process,” Fontana said. “I think what we have right here is a fair deal that addresses a lot of the needs that our members told us they wanted addressed in this round of contract negotiations.”
All board members voted yes on the contract except for Jeff Hallgren, who abstained because he said he’s been a member of the same union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which is the state level of the DCTA, for 18 years as a teacher at Elgin Community College.
The vote came after months of negotiations, multiple demonstrations during school board meetings and a threat of strike. Under the new contract, union members will see a cumulative salary increase of 15% over the next four years.
“All of my issues related to the fundamentals aside, I just felt like it was a conflict of interest for me as a board member to vote,” Hallgren said. “I did not vote against it, all issues of content aside.”
Board President Samantha McDavid said she was pleased that other aspects, such as differentials (union members who coach or take on other responsibilities outside of their expected position duties), as well as salary raises for members who pursue higher education while employed, got some attention.
“It was a very collaborative process and I think that both sides got a fair contract settled,” McDavid said after the meeting. “We were able to enhance a lot of areas in the contract that hadn’t been touched for several years, so that’s exciting to be able to compensate our teachers fairly. And we’re excited that the process is over.”
According to the approved contract for the DCTA, members will get a 2% increase to their base pay beginning in the 2019-20 school year, a 1.75% increase the second year (2020-21), a 1.5% increase in the third year (2021-22), and a 1% increase the final year (2022-23).
There will also be an annual step increase of 2.21% awarded to association members, according to the contract.
Fontana said he believes the contract keeps DeKalb teachers’ pay competitive with neighboring districts, and also begins to address the problem of overcrowded classrooms in District 428.
“We’re really happy that we have something in effect that’s going to allow us to study the problem in some detail,” Fontana said. “Because there does seem to be some conflicting ideas out there in terms of class size.”
Instructors could also receive a twice-yearly $250 stipend (from 2021-24) if they teach a classroom size that exceeds a set size, which will be determined by a task force that will collect data in 2019 and 2020, according to the contract.
“We would liked to have seen something a little more concrete,” Fontana said of the task force. “I think it’s safe to say the overwhelming majority of our members do feel the class sizes are too high right now.”
McDavid said the task force will allow for a “collaborative approach” to tackling overflowing classrooms.
“We are fairly limited with our facilities right now, so we’re going to have to get creative,” she said. “But it’s something we can work together on. The idea with having a little stipend behind that is putting our money where our mouth is. We understand large class sizes are difficult.”
The union represents more than 500 educators. In addition to covering all District 428 teachers, the union also covers coaches, counselors, social workers, speech language pathologists, psychologists, nurses, certified librarians and instructional coaches. The union does not cover administrators, assistants, secretaries, cooks or custodians, Fontana said.