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District 200 board OKs 3-year teacher contract with 8-percent raise, health benefit reforms

WHEATON – Teachers in Community Unit School District 200 have a new contract, which includes a nearly 8-percent raise over the next three years, at the cost of some benefits.

In a special meeting June 4, the Board of Education approved an agreement 5-1 with the Wheaton Warrenville Education Association, which represents the district's more than 1,000 certified educators, after nearly five months of negotiations, according to a district news release.

Board member Jim Gambaiani voted against the contract, according to district Director of Public Relations Erica Loiacono. Member Jim Mathieson was absent for the vote.

The deal runs through the 2017-18 school year, the release stated, and increases pay by an average of about 2.65 percent each year for a total hike of 7.95 percent.

Board President Jim Vroman said in the release he was pleased with the contract, especially given the financial challenges ahead of the district.

"We have several big-picture, strategic issues facing our district in the near future, including major capital and facility projects," he said. "Based on current revenue projections, staff turnover due to retirements, the cost of health benefits and critical facility issues facing us, the new agreement provides appropriate compensation to our teachers while supporting a balanced budget and addressing future challenges."

In light of looming cutbacks from Springfield, the contract includes a pledge to create a committee in January 2016 between the district and association to establish a new, sustainable salary structure. It also has a limited reopener clause, should there be drastic changes in funding or revenue from the capital. Association President Bryce Cann said prior to the vote June 4 that the clause existed in the district's prior three-year deal.

Individual schools will also be able to adjust staff start time to accommodate Professional Learning Communities, according to the release, which are groups of teachers sharing resources, lessons and other materials to foster professional growth.

The contract affects retirement options for teachers as well. The district is no longer required to allow union members to retire early under the state's Early Retirement Option, the release stated.

Starting July 1, a post-employment compensation will grant teachers who have worked in the district at least 18 years a one-time payment of $750 – up from $500 – for every year of service. The boost will not affect pension benefits.

The agreement also shifts up to $2.8 million in health benefit costs onto union members, including a spousal surcharge and increases in out-of-pocket payments, deductibles and prescription copays. District officials have largely blamed a sudden uptick in healthcare costs for recent budget woes.

Cann said before the board's contract vote that 60 percent of the association voted in favor of the deal June 2, and that member concerns would be addressed moving forward.

"This agreement addresses many of our members' collective interests," he said in the release. "It is a fair financial package and our members gain increased flexibility in how collaboration and planning for student learning will occur in our schools. There are always ongoing challenges in our District that must be addressed. I am confident this agreement provides a framework to address them while still allowing us to continue providing a high-quality educational experience for our students."

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