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Highland Park teacher pact preserves pension pay boosts

Updated: January 22, 2013 1:37AM

HIGHLAND PARK —Teachers in North Shore District 112 who announce plans to retire no later than the 2016-17 year will continue to receive 6 percent pay raises during each of the last four years under a two-year agreement that was struck in the early morning hours Oct. 17, cutting short a one-day teachers’ strike.

However, those 6 percent pay boosts, which increase teachers’ lifetime pension benefits, will expire at the end of the two-year agreement. Starting with this agreement, the district no longer will give retirees a $15,000 bonus after retirement that does not impact their pension benefits.

The North Shore District 112 School Board on Tuesday night approved the two-year agreement with the North Shore Education Association that school officials say will result in average teacher pay raises of 2.7 percent each year of the contract.

The agreement was ratified by the teachers’ union Nov. 14. Teachers who are eligible for a yearly step increase will be advanced to the next step, and other teachers will receive a $1,000 pay raise.

The District 112 School Board said the settlement is in line with the board’s goal of maintaining a balanced budget without drawing on district reserves to pay the routine costs of operations.

The board’s early offers proposed fundamental changes to a pay system that school officials have said is not sustainable. Meanwhile, the union pushed back, contending the proposed compensation and benefits package would be the worst among comparable districts and create a high degree of staff turnover. The School Board and the teachers’ union have agreed to create a joint committee to develop recommendations on alternatives to the current pay system.

Hurdles throughout the negotiating process centered on economic issues — from base increases and education-related lane movement to pre-retirement pay boosts and health insurance premiums.

One large sticking point was the district’s 11-lane salary schedule that frequently rewards teachers for completing additional coursework. Under the settlement, teachers who have completed coursework for lane advancement or are close to completion will receive their expected pay increases.

Teachers objected to suddenly curtailing those raises, noting that teachers had taken on loans or put their tuition on credit cards with the expectation those raises would be coming. But after the 2012-13 year, teachers can receive only one such advancement every two years. Going forward, teachers will need to complete 18 additional course hours, rather than nine or fewer, to advance another lane on the pay scale.

Teachers called the strike at about midnight Oct. 15 after a seven-hour negotiating session did not produce a settlement.

While teachers picketed outside schools on Oct. 16, negotiators went back to the bargaining table at noon and worked through the night. Both sides announced the settlement at 5 a.m. Oct. 17 and classes resumed that day.

The district serves about 4,300 pupils in Highland Park, Highwood and Fort Sheridan.

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