The Forest Park Elementary School District 91 Board of Education unanimously approved a new contract with the Forest Park Educators Association, the union representing teachers and staff, during its July 14 meeting.

The contract, which will last through the 2025-26 school year, includes annual starting salary increases for new teachers for the first three years and annual salary increases for existing teachers for all four years. 

It caps the number of school days per school year at 187 days and sets aside two days for curriculum development. The contract also includes the language explicitly prohibiting strikes or any other labor actions. 

Under the terms of the contract, the starting salary for the new teachers will be set at $48,000 for the 2022-23 school year, $48,501 for the 2023-24 school year, and $49,007 for the 2024-25 and in 2025-26 school years. 

This comes as the national teacher shortage has grown more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the November/December issue of the Illinois School Board Journal, the publication of the Illinois Association of School Boards, in 2020-21 school year, there were 6,200 vacant teaching and staff positions statewide. 

The article cited “inadequate compensation,” stressful conditions, lack of professional development and lack of support from the administration and the board as the culprits.

Teachers already employed by the district will get salary increases as well. In 2022-23 school year, teachers get flat $5,000 raises. In the 2023-24 and 2024-2025 school years, they will get 5-percent salary increases, and 4-percent salary increases for the 2025-26 school year.

Aside from setting a maximum number of school days, the contract specifies that, out of the 187 days, 176 will be regular school days, four days will be allocated to professional development, two would be reserved for “principal-directed teacher collaboration” and five will be ‘emergency days.”

Union President Meghan Binder told the Review that the cap codifies what has already been an informal practice. What did change was the number of full days set aside for teacher collaboration, where teachers would together to develop curricula. In the past, these planning sessions were held after school, which was “often difficult for teachers to plan for in terms of childcare and whatnot.”

“We feel [having two full-service days] will help both the teachers and the district have a more productive use of time for teacher collaboration,” Binder said.

The contract also states that, during the term of the agreement, the union members “not to strike, not to participate in any work stoppage or slow down, and not to in any way engage in any concerted job action which would materially interfere with the operation or administration of the district.”

A statement released by the school district quotes Binder as saying that the union was happy with how the negotiations turned out. 

“Our negotiation team is grateful that both parties were fully involved in the entire process and showed a good faith effort during the negotiations,” she stated. “Overall, we’re happy to have worked alongside the district to negotiate terms that will hopefully work to attract and retain high-quality educators as we move forward into the next few years.”

During the July 14 meeting, Superintendent Elizabeth Alvarez said contract negotiations started in April and ended June 13. The union ratified the contract on July 5. She said that she was grateful for the work the negotiating teams.

“Our teachers deserve this raise,” she said. “They, now more than ever, need to be recognized for their hard work and dedication to our children and what they bring to our school, our families, and the community.”

Board President Kyra Tyler said Alvarez deserved credit for the negotiations’ success as well. She said that she hoped that this would set the stage for equally fruitful negotiations in the future.

“We finished on the night when there was a tornado, so we spent hours in the basement, but we worked through it,” Tyler said. “I think the whole district wins now that we have a plan moving forward for the next four years. We’re really excited to support our teachers, and we hope this is setting us up for continued progress down the road.”