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Teachers, district embrace new way on pay

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:02AM

There’s a new kind of teacher reward system in place in a north suburban school district that ties teachers’ portfolios and evaluations to dollars-and-cents results, but don’t expect it to catch on in Chicago or across the state.

Teachers in one of the highest academically ranked school districts in Illinois, Lincolnshire-Prairie View School District 103, are about halfway through a process that will determine whether they get raises the following school year. Their contract requires them to earn a “proficient” or “excellent” rating in order to get a bump; those who earn the higher rankings receive a 2.4 percent raise on their base pay and a cash bonus that varies based on their rating.

Teachers who fail to obtain the higher rankings get no raise, but the teachers’ negotiator says the 150-member staff is so skilled and dedicated and the contract so expansive, it’s a fair deal.

Chicago Public Schools offered merit pay during negotiations surrounding the 2012 teachers strike and sought to eliminate built-in raises for years of teaching and continuing education, proposals the Chicago Teachers Union fought. But because negotiations were complicated by more work required — the district lengthened the school day as well as the number of days children were in school — it’s hard to compare the nation’s third-largest district’s contract process with any of Illinois’ suburban districts, CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said. CPS has more than 400,000 students; the union represents nearly 30,000 staffers.

The CTU opposed tying teacher raises or job security to student test scores, though state law links teacher evaluations to how well students fare on standardized tests. “It’s not so clear about what student test scores predict,” Sharkey said. “The best predictor of student performance in college is grades.”

Charlie McBarron, communications director for the Illinois Education Association, said he couldn’t comment on the Lincolnshire contract specifically.

“Developing a compensation system that is fair to all parties is always a big challenge,” he said, noting that he was commenting in general terms.

“You are more likely to see out-of-the-box thinking in districts where there is a good, trusting relationship between the school board and the unions,” he said. “If innovative solutions are successful, you will see them more often.”

McBarron said it would be premature to say the contract points to a pay-for-performance trend. “Let’s see how things play out at the bargaining tables around the state over the next few years,” he said.

A key driver of negotiations in Lincolnshire was the economy. Local homeowners have taken a hit on their property values, but they want to repair local school buildings and upgrade the schools’ technologies, says Tracy Gordon, a fourth-grade teacher at Half Day School and president of the Lincolnshire-Prairie View Teachers Association.

Gordon said she understood, as a property owner herself, that the community was “watching closely” as it asked the school board to be fiscally cautious.

“Local residents want to provide our students with the best, and that’s what the teachers want too,” said Gordon, who noted that the district is considering outfitting all classes with iPads.

Another driving force was a new superintendent, Scott H. Warren, who brought his belief in interest-based bargaining to his first job as a superintendent and his first contract in that role. Warren, a former director of technology and personnel at Northbrook School District 28, started his job in Lincolnshire on Jan. 3, 2012.

He said the process emphasized that the school board and the teachers union work together to form common ground, and it aimed for a contract that met the interests of both parties. Five teachers, two administrators and three school board members negotiated.

The pay-for-performance item came up because the administration and teachers wanted to reward “great work,” Warren said. “They both agreed that this was a great opportunity.”

Last spring, prior to the contract’s Aug. 21 expiration, teachers agreed to the new negotiating procedure, and the negotiators took two days of training from the Illinois Education Association.

The teachers’ union helped create the evaluation process along with the school district administration, and Gordon described the process as mutually respectful. The evaluations are to be completed by May 14.

Gordon said prep work for the evaluations adds to a teacher’s already heavy workload, but she believes the outcome will be positive.

“As I go through a rubric, I think, ‘Wow, this is an area I could improve upon,’ ” she said. “No matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement.”

And if the pay-for-performance program doesn’t work as expected, the union will revisit it, she said.

“It’s worth a try,” Gordon said. “If it’s not working the way we thought, we’ll figure how we can make it better or more fair.”

Gordon said the contract must be evaluated in its entirety. For example, teachers who work in the summer writing curricula, creating district assessments and doing other behind-the-scenes work will earn either extra pay or school board “credit.” The pay scale recognizes the extra credit, so teachers may move up to a new salary lane.

The reward “makes it attractive to work in the district,” Gordon said.

Teachers also made concessions. They previously paid no health care premiums. The contract says they must pay 5 percent of the premium for single health insurance coverage in the second year of the contract, and 10 percent in the third year.

But the teachers may go with a less expensive plan, and a new wellness program allows them to be eligible for a rebate of their increased contribution toward the premium.

Teachers also agreed to serve 15 years rather than 12 to participate in post-retirement benefits, such as a pay increase and partial contribution toward their health care benefits, and the district no longer will give 170 sick days to a teacher who announces his or her retirement or pay an early retirement penalty for that teacher.

Gordon said the retirement agreement was fair to the district, teachers and taxpayers.

The add-on performance bonuses, awarded at the end of the school year, will this school year amount to 0.3 percent of a teacher’s salary, based on the teacher’s 2012-13 salary, if he or she earns a “proficient” rating, and 0.6 percent of the salary for those who rank “excellent.”

Over the next two years, those percentages will range from 0.1 to 1.6, depending on the teacher’s evaluation. The higher the teacher’s rating, the higher the percentage performance will be, up to 1.6 percent non-compounding.

The average teacher’s salary in the district is $78,458, compared with the statewide average of $66,614.

District 103 school board President Gary Gordon, no relation to Tracy Gordon, said everyone involved in the negotiations agreed to focus “on excellent work.”

“We recognized and rewarded excellence,” he said.

“The trust and the relationship-building that resulted will serve the district through the term of the contract,” Gary Gordon said.

He said he would encourage others to consider the process as a model. “It was certainly the right thing for us.”

McBarron said a key issue will be whether the evaluation instrument is sound and, most important, that the person conducting the evaluation is properly trained and well-qualified to evaluate teaching quality.

“IEA has pushed to make sure that teacher evaluations are meaningful,” he said.

“What’s most important, we believe, is that contracts are bargained that will allow education to continue to attract high-quality people to the teaching profession and that the best teachers are retained.”

Contributed: Lauren FitzPatrick


Twitter: @sandrayguy

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