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Lake Forest High School teachers believe they have been asked to take what adds up to a "pay cut" after the Lake Forest Education Association, representing the teacher's union, and the District 115 Board of Education entered into negotiations when the contract expired June 30.
Lead negotiator Chuck Gress, a mathematics teacher for more than 20 years at the high school, claims the school board has asked teachers to accept a pay freeze, a decrease in its retirement benefits and pay more toward health insurance in the next contract.
“When you add it all up,” he argued, “our compensation package would, literally, take a pay cut.”
Gress spoke Thursday morning while more than 50 unionized teachers walked up and down in front of the school carrying signs that read 'Don't Cut Our Pay,' 'Fair Pay' and 'We've Earned a Fair and Equitable Contract,' against a backdrop of parents dropping off their kids before the first bell rang.
Gress led the picket line on a cold and blustery morning, and promised its return “tonight, tomorrow morning (Friday) and tomorrow after school, as well.”
“All we want is to be treated fairly,” Gress said of his fellow teachers, who he included in a “squeezed” middle class. “We understand the future is somewhat unclear, but let's negotiate a fair deal for the next couple of years, and let's see what happens.”
In a recent email sent from the board of education to parents of students and posted on its website, the board acknowledged a mediator has been brought in at the request of the teacher’s union after talks broke down over three main areas: salary, benefits, and professional development.
Economy Argument Has Two Sides
In a recent phone interview with Patch, District 115 Board of Education President Sharon Golan said the economic backdrop for the negotiations is different from when the last contract was negotiated in 2006.
“It was, really, a very different world prior to 2008,” she stressed. “We negotiated (then) a contract that was competitive with the other high-ranking school districts.”
Gress argued that wasn't the case when Deerfield High School, Highland Park High School and other neighboring high schools recently passed their teacher's contracts.
“Not one of these schools has had any reduction in their benefits, in terms of insurance and retirement,” he said. “We're not asking for the moon. We're looking for a fair settlement, and we just don't want to go backwards.”
In a May article by the Chicago Sun-Times, ranked second in Lake County for a teacher with a doctorate degree and just over 13 years of experience to earn a maximum of $101,648.28 annually. District 113, which includes Deerfield and Highland Park high schools, was ranked first with a contract that paid teachers with about the same years of experience $104,737.21 annually.
Pay for Performance
Pointing to the palm of his hand, which had written in ink the high school's cumulative ACT score of '26.8,' nearly six points higher than the state's average, Gress said taxpayers get what they pay for.
“In the past four years, our ACT scores have gone up,” he said. “And, we believe, that if you want performance, you have to pay for performance.”
“I think the people in our community, the people who live in these big homes behind [the high school], they understand that,” he added.
As for a strike in the near future, Golan doesn't expect one.
“I think anytime people hear the words ‘union’ and ‘negotiations,’ they jump to that word (strike), but it’s not expected at this point,” she said.
However, if a suitable teacher's contract isn't reached by Monday, when both parties meet next, Gress said it's a “possibility that we'll take a strike vote.”
“Quite frankly — here's a quote for you — I'm going to retire in two years,” he said. “This is one part of this job I will not miss.”
"To go through this emotional step, to get respect, to get fairness," he added, "this [has been] very hard on all of us."
- Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch will continue to update this story.