DIXON – Shortly after negotiations wrapped up in March 2013, ending a teachers strike that cost 9 days of school, both sides explored how to bridge the gap next time.
School board member John Jacobs asked Dolph Ricks, a Reagan Middle School teacher and a member of the Dixon Educators Association, what he’d do differently next time.
Ricks suggested they explore interest-based negotiations, they went for it – “What else did we have to lose?” Ricks said – and Wednesday night – 3 weeks before the previous contract expired – both sides reaped the benefits of collaboration: a new teachers contract that will run through 2020.
That said, the expiration date was just a date, school board President Pam Tourtillott said.
“We want to respect that date on the calendar, but if we’d gone past it, nothing in the working conditions would have changed,” she said. “No one wants to go past that date, but if we had, it would have been for the benefit of the group, and to make sure it was for the best of everyone in the room.”
The board unanimously approved the deal Wednesday after the teachers ratified it Monday.
The new deal was geared to bring salaries closer to equal in the 2016-17 school year, regardless of which step (year of service) or lane (level of education) teachers have.
In years 2 and 3, teachers will receive a step increase and, in year 4, they’ll get a step increase and a .25 percent increase to the base rate. Those 3 years’ increases effectively boil down to a 2 percent salary increase.
Another significant element is the new two-tier insurance system. Employees grandfathered in will see modest insurance premium increases but no other change to their plans. New employees fall into Tier 2, in which wellness will now be included in the plans that will follow Affordable Care Act guidelines. In addition, families will see a significant increase in contributions for coverage.
“Those under Tier 2 will get wellness in their Affordable Care Act plan, whereas employees grandfathered in don’t,” Superintendent Margo Empen said. “So it’s kind of apples and oranges, and there are tradeoffs on both sides.”
She said the ramped-up family premiums for Tier-2 employees will help the district recoup some expenses.
“Insurance premiums are very costly to the district,” she said.
Also, if a spouse’s employer provides insurance, the couple must take that insurance as primary.
The third significant element was the early retirement incentive of a 4 percent salary increase, which in March 2013 was negotiated to expire by the contract’s end, and would need to be renegotiated back in. It was, at a maximum of 4 years in which a teacher would receive a 4 percent bump annually, beginning with the year they submit a letter of intent to retire. In the previous contract, teachers could reap that 4 percent salary increase each of their last 6 years.
Teachers will be eligible for the benefit only if they serve at least 10 years in the district, but no more than 35.
“The district will be able to see a savings by bringing in newer teachers,” Tourtillott said.
Negotiation sessions took place about three times a month, and often lasted upward of 4 hours, but the benefits of taking a collaborative approach were undeniable, board Vice President Jim Schielein said.
“I don’t think any of us wanted to go through what we went through before; there was no interest in that,” he said. “ This time around, it was all about looking each other in the eye and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this problem, and this need. How are we going to solve it?’”
DEA President Karen Chamberlain, who was vice president during the contentious negotiations last time around, expressed gratitude to her negotiators, whose participants work in each of the district’s buildings.
“They gave perspective on things that would occur on their grade level that I did not have a story for,” she said. “All the stories, interests and options and stories you brought gave a good representation to our entire association.”
Tourtillott said even though early negotiations, which began in November, tackled “easy things,” they went slowly. The process picked up speed, until it hit insurance and salary.
“Let’s face it: The hardest part is money,” “Everything under the umbrella of money is difficult. We hit the cold, hard facts and we stalled. But we went back to why we were here, and what our interests were. We put them on the wall and we talked through them, even though it was hard. We continued, and we did so respectfully, in the same room.”
SEE THE CONTRACT
Visit shawurl.com/2n8n to see the 40-page Dixon Public Schools teachers contract for 2016-20.
The Dixon school board will next meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district office, 1335 Franklin Grove Road.
Go to dps170.org or call the district office at 815-284-7722 for an agenda or more information.