The Rockford School Board and Rockford Education Association have agreed to a two-year labor agreement. The School Board ratified the contract tonight after REA membership ratified the agreement Monday afternoon. RPS 205 and the REA announced on Thursday they had reached a tentative agreement.
The collaborative negotiation process resulted in a two-year contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 2015 and lasts through June 30, 2017. Both sides agreed to limit the contract to two years because of financial uncertainty at the state level. RPS 205 and the REA have agreed to continue meeting quarterly to continue the bargaining process as the state funding climate changes. This contract also includes a commitment from both parties to discuss ways to find savings in the Teacher Retirement System and not trigger unnecessary penalties.
The total financial impact of the contract is $5.9 million over the course of two years, which includes offset savings to taxpayers of more than $3.3 million. Financial terms of the agreement fall within what’s budgeted for Fiscal Year 2016.
The agreement is the result of a first for RPS 205: a collaborative bargaining process. The process, called Interest-Based Bargaining, began with two days of training in December 2014. Since then, bargaining teams from the district and the union met 16 times and discussed issues including class size, technology, evaluation, insurance and compensation. These meetings alone represented more than 100 hours.
“We want to show the community that the School Board, district administration, and REA have a strong commitment to work together,” said Superintendent Ehren Jarrett. “This collaborative process has worked well for students, parents, taxpayers and teachers alike. We have agreed to continue to work together to solve problems and improve the district.”
“The bargaining process we used is focused on problem solving rather than taking positions,” said REA President Dawn Granath. “It’s a process that keeps what’s best for students and the community at the forefront.”
Compensation: Salary increases include a 2 percent base-pay increase in the first year; a 1 percent base-pay increase in the second year. Employees continue to be given what are called steps and lanes in a contract salary schedule. Steps on the pay scale are bumps given for years of service in the district, while lanes are given when an employee completes additional education. This contract outlines a salary schedule that includes a pay increase by step plus 2 percent of the total salary in the first year of the contract (2015-16), and a step plus 1 percent of the total salary in the second year of the contract (2016-17). This averages an annual salary schedule increase of 3.08 percent per contract year, but that increase is offset by an agreement to end bonuses outlined in the previous contract. This generates a $1.17 million savings during the life of the contract. Because of that offset savings, total compensation is a 2.6 percent cost increase per year to taxpayers.
Benefits: REA members will now pay more for insurance premiums, with incentives to participate in higher-deductible plans and a district wellness plan. REA member contributions for health care premiums are now aligned with other RPS 205 non-teacher employee groups. This move is expected to save taxpayers a projected $2.2 million over the life of the contract. (See chart.)
Kindergarten class size: This agreement lowers the kindergarten class size from 28 in the previous contract to 26 for the 2016-17 school year. The contract also adds as many as 16 additional kindergarten teachers – one kindergarten teacher to each of as many as 16 schools with the highest mean kindergarten class size. The trigger to add a paraprofessional to a class was 23 students; for the 2016-17 school year, that trigger is 24. The combination of these provisions makes the change cost neutral.