Teachers in Proviso Township’s three public high schools voted to accept a 3.5 percent pay increase during the next school year, but will forgo all bonuses and the stability of a multi-year deal.
The roughly 300 members of the union ratified the one-year contract extension during a June 1 meeting. The school board is yet to vote on the deal.
There is, however, dissension among union members on whether the contract is fair. According to several teachers at the Proviso Math and Science Academy, the union is willing to strip academy teachers of an annual stipend that was used by administrators to lure them to the magnet school. That stipend – $3,750 for those with a master’s degree and $5,000 for those with a doctorate – is tied directly to the academy having one extra week of classes that teachers at Proviso East and Proviso West aren’t responsible for.
If the contract extension is agreed to by the board, the math and science academy would eliminate that extra week of instruction.
For academy teachers, cutting the stipend would negate the 3.5 percent salary increase, resulting in a pay cut of several thousand dollars. On average, Proviso teachers earn a salary of $61,014 a year, according to state report card data. Statewide, the average teacher’s salary is $60,871.
“This is every single teacher at Proviso Math and Science Academy,” said one union member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
There are an estimated 300 union members. Proviso Math and Science Academy has a faculty of 40.
“I think we truly feel betrayed by the union,” said another teacher who transferred to the academy from within the district. Union members have been discouraged from speaking about the negotiations, the teacher said, and asked not to be identified.
The contract negotiations come in the midst of a strong push from administrators to cut spending and balance the budget. Proviso’s public high schools have earned a spot on the Illinois Board of Education financial watch list after years of deficit spending. In January, a state-assembled panel was given immediate oversight of District 209’s budget.
One teacher suggested many of the district’s financial problems could be solved by shuttering the magnet school, but the school board built the academy for a reason and now must find ways to support those goals.
“They think they can run it on a two-school budget, and they can’t,” said the teacher who said they felt betrayed by the union.
Union members said that academy teachers also are not paid for some of their work outside of the classroom, while teachers at East and West are. Specifically, time spent working with students to prepare for the ACT college entrance exam does not result in any additional pay for magnet school teachers. At East and West, however, an hourly rate is offered. Academy teachers also parse through applications from prospective students, and aren’t directly compensated for doing so.
The same teacher who said pay cuts would be absorbed by every faculty member acknowledged that employees have willingly worked under those conditions for years. Principal Ed Moyer has worked to build a unique culture at the upstart academy, said the teacher, and new recruits understood that. This contract, however, might change that.
“Ed will lose teachers and he’ll lose a lot of the buy-in that he’s strived for,” the teacher said.
Mona Johnson, president of the teachers’ union, declined to comment on the contract negotiations. Until the school board votes on a proposal, she said, it would be inappropriate for either side to discuss the matter the publicly.
Several academy teachers who opposed the contract extension said it would have been equitable to introduce a slightly smaller salary increase for union members. Doing so would have allowed the district to save money without targeting concessions to a specific group. These teachers described the union as a group that is fractured by politics and egos. When the math and science academy opened in 2005, they said, those fissures grew.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that the whole district is divided,” said an academy teacher who previously taught at one of Proviso’s flagship high schools. “That trickles into the union.”
The math and science academy is the only school in the district to meet benchmarks for student performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Also, preliminary results from the standardized tests taken by juniors in the spring indicate that ACT scores at the magnet school are up a full percentage point.
“The school that has had the best results in the district, every single teacher will have a pay cut,” said an academy teacher.