District 91 and the Forest Park Teachers Association have finalized a new four-year contract agreement that will expire after fiscal year 2019. A half-dozen negotiation sessions, spread over the course of several months this past spring, culminated with a final vote by the District 91 Board of Education at its July 9 meeting, voting unanimously to approve the deal.

When asked to describe the accord, District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo responded that, as usual, salaries and benefits were the top issue but “all in all it is very similar to previous agreements.” The biggest change, according to Mary Win Connor, District 91 board president, is the delayed elimination of the salary schedule.

As Connor explained it, during the first two years of the new deal teacher raises will continue to be dictated by the pre-existing schedule. However, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, salary increases will be determined by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).

Regardless of the final CPI-U number, there is a rider included in the deal that stipulates a 4-percent cap on salary increases and a 2-percent minimum. Cavallo called this change a “fair and reasonable salary adjustment” and noted that teachers outside the salary schedule will now receive equal compensation increases.

Connor, who was not directly involved with the negotiations, indicated a minor health care adjustment in the deal, too. D91, partnering with other school districts, will now use a “co-op” system to provide benefits to employees, forgoing the use of an independent broker.

“It is a cost-saving measure,” Connor said.

Cavallo agreed noting, “Co-ops benefit small districts greatly.” He said District 91 has participated in a co-op system before, but a previous administration decided to opt out of such a relationship.

When asked to characterize the negotiations, both Cavallo and Connor were positive about the dialogue between the administration and the Forest Park Teachers Association.

“We have a great relationship with [the FPTA]. … There was never any contention,” Connor said.

Cavallo called the talks “very collaborative” and reasoned that the “open lines of communication all year long” prepared the two sides for a cordial negotiation period. This latest agreement marks the third time Cavallo has presided over negotiations between the FPTA and District 91.

In a statement given to the Review, FPTA co-presidents Jennifer Uhlmann and Paul Cushing described the District 91 negotiators as “open, honest and fair.” The District 91 group consisted of Cavallo, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Edward Brophy, school board members Nora Bowker and Eric Connor, and two attorneys.

According to the statement, “The FPTA is looking forward to continued collaboration with the board and community to provide the best educational experience for the students of Forest Park.”

“I am very proud of our teachers,” Connor said.