Federal mediator brought in for contract talks between Crystal Lake District 47, teachers union

CLETA rejected district’s proposal to extend existing contract for 1 year

Over 100 people packed the Crystal Lake School District 47 board of education meeting Monday night wearing red shirts to stand in solidarity as negotiations for a new teacher’s contract continue on for eight months.

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 continues contract negotiations with the teachers union by adding a federal mediator as talks for a new contract stretch into eight months.

The Crystal Lake Elementary Teachers Association contract expires on Aug. 19 – the first day of school in the district. The union has been bargaining with District 47 officials since October in hopes for improved salaries, benefits and working conditions, teacher and CLETA member Jacqueline Murk said at a District 47 school board meeting last week.

A federal mediator, a neutral party who assists in the negotiation process, was requested by the district after CLETA rejected the administration’s most recent offer earlier this month. CLETA rejected the proposal made by the district on June 12 to extend the current contract by another year as they continue to negotiate a new multi-year contract. The proposal included 5% salary increases for the 2024-25 school year, 6% salary increases for up to three years for teachers participating in the retirement incentive program and increased plan time, according to a District 47 school board news release.

The teachers union countered that what the district offered was not a formal proposal.

Two major issues in the negotiations are base salary increases and moving teachers in the step salary schedule. CLETA is also asking for improved safety policies and protocols, the elimination of outside staffing agencies and increased plan time to assess students’ needs, according to an Illinois Education Association news release.

The union is asking for about 140 teachers to move multiple steps in the salary schedule, according to the release. Steps are salary increases that usually are given to teachers annually based on years of experience or years working at the district. Because of previous contract agreements and past salary freezes, salary schedules for some teachers have been affected.

However, the district contends it would have to increase salaries by about 8% each year if the district were to accept CLETA’s proposal, and that “would put the District at risk for significant penalties from the Illinois Teachers Retirement System for salary increases above the state limit of 6% for teachers nearing retirement,” according to the district’s release.

The union took issue with the district’s use of the word “penalties,” saying the district would simply be required to pay the difference into the Teachers Retirement System above the state limit.

“The board is committed to reaching an agreement with CLETA on a contract that will serve the best interest of the District 47 faculty, students and community,” District 47 Director of Communications and Public Engagement Kari Firak said in the release. “The board’s most recent proposal is intended to reward its teachers’ performance and to establish a competitive starting salary while maintaining fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers in our community.”

CLETA represents 670 teachers, according to the IEA news release. Teachers currently receive a 3% salary increase each year, with salaries for the 2023-24 school year ranging from $43,605 to $104,695, according to contract documents.

“It’s disappointing that we have not reached an agreement, however, there are still a couple months before our contract expires and the start of school. CLETA has been ready and willing to mutually work toward a fair agreement that supports our educators and benefits our students and community,” CLETA spokesperson and teacher Jen Rutishauser said.

The district and the union have agreed on “several working condition items and a handful of items that have a financial component attached,” Firak said in a news release.

Federal mediation is the first step before a legal potential strike under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. If an agreement is not made with a federal mediator, last and best offers are publicly posted and a strike could be initiated 10 days later, according to the IEA.

“We are advocating for our students and for all of our teachers and staff. It’s important to attract and retain talented educators,” Rutishauer said. “It seems like the district can only focus on what’s happening this minute, but we’re fighting for a strong future. We need to make Crystal Lake a destination district. Our students deserve nothing but the best.”

The next bargaining date is tentatively scheduled for July 25, according to the IEA news release.

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