Wilmette, News

Avoca teachers take contract concerns to board meetings

Amid contract negotiations, Avoca District 37 teachers are prepared to address their board of education for the second time in a month this week.

The Avoca Education Association, led by president Jen Pease, hopes to influence ongoing contract negotiations by making public its concerns with current proposals from the board.

“We fear the new proposals will not only change staff makeup but our programming offerings to students,” Pease said.

The group first addressed the board on Sept. 24 and plans to return this Thursday, Oct. 8.

Board of Education President Rick Zelinsky downplayed any tension, saying the negotiations are progressing “as expected” and are in the “throes of proposals and counter proposals.”

The teachers’ concerns reportedly center on board-proposed adjustments to the staff’s salary and benefits package and an increase in teaching hours, which may reduce “planning time.”

Pease, who said that all 85 district teachers are union members, called changes in both instances “drastic,” and the education association fears they could affect teacher retention and recruitment as well as a “special” student experience.

“The drastic changes are quite surprising and concerning,” Pease said. “We just want to be proactive and make sure to protect the special opportunities students have and the experiences we provide at our district.”

Zelinsky would not comment on specifics in the proposals in question, saying that at this point the negotiations are confidential and the education association broke “ground rules” agreed upon at the start of negotiations in May.

“We made a pact with the AEA,” he said. “With the actions by AEA on Sept. 24 and since then, they are violating agreed-to rules in regard to confidentiality. It’s really not appropriate to get into specifics at this point.”

Avoiding specifics, Zelinsky said the board disagrees with Pease’s assessment with initial proposals being “drastic,” and added that the compensation package included “growth” but not at the same rate of the current contract (2015-2020).

Zelinsky said Avoca 37 was recently placed on the early-warning list by the Illinois State Board of Education, which — among other things — monitors the financial health of public schools in the state.

The list is a sign that the district is moving down the wrong path, one that ends with state oversight. Though Avoca 37 is a long way from that reality, Zelinsky said the board has an obligation to its taxpayers.

“It is our position as a board, in response to our residents, that it is incumbent upon us to come to a more sustainable contract that more closely aligns with revenues and expenditures in a more direct proportion over time,” he said.

Pease called Avoca 37 a “lighthouse” district that is sought after by both educators and families.

As of 2019, Avoca D37 teachers averaged the highest annual base salary ($92,700) among their New Trier Township peers and that number has increased 27.3 percent over the past 10 years, according to data from Illinoisreportcard.com, a product of the Illinois State Board of Education.

The average teachers’ salary at similar North Shore districts are: $87,300 in Glencoe 35, $87,100 in Winnetka 36, $85,600 in Kenilworth 38, $84,600 in Sunset Ridge 29 and $78,300 in Wilmette District 39. The state’s 2019 average teacher salary in elementary schools is $67,000.

Pease is also worried the board’s offer of increased active teaching hours would limit teacher collaboration and creative thinking, thus stunting educational opportunities for students.

“With less planning time, the quality of your lessons and programming and lesson-delivery is not going to be the same,” Pease said.

Zelinsky said altering any programming is not in the current proposal and could only be directly affected by the administration.

“There is no real intent to reduce any programming or negatively impact current programming levels,” he said.

The contract expires this month, according to district documents, and the next regularly scheduled board of education meetings are 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, and Thursday, Oct. 22.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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