Before contract negotiations resumed at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Geneva Middle School North, School Board President Mark Grosso explained some of the details of "step" and "lane" salary increases as well as the Geneva teachers union's "final offer" proposal to increase teacher salaries in each of the three year prior to retirement.
"The two (big issues) I see are salaries, of course, and retirement," Grosso said in a brief phone interview.
Under the present contract, teachers who choose not to take early retirement receive a 6 percent raise in their final year of service.
The Geneva Education Association is asking to increase that to 6 percent the first year, while the second- and third-year increase would be "based on the previous year’s negotiated average salary increase."
Grosso said that translates to more than 6 percent pay increase in each of the three final years prior to retirement — or more than 18 percent over those final three years.
Since pension payments are based on the final year's salary, the GEA's demand is particularly hard to swallow for a School District that's still trying to pay down a $300 million debt in principal and interest.
The GEA's final offer rationale says "comparable districts allow four years of the 6 percent salary increase."
"Pension spiking" — when compensation is inflated in the years immediately preceding retirement to boost pension payments — isn't illegal but it is one of the causes of underfunded pension programs and calls for reform in Illinois, California and other states.
"These increases boost the average base salary used for calculating future pension benefits," Grosso said in the District 304 press release.
Illinois has passed laws making it more difficult for employees to spike their pensions, with sanctions that include "big pension fines for just this type of thing," Grosso said.
"Many districts give more," Grosso noted. "But the state started penalizing school districts for doing it."
The Geneva Education Association's final offer seeks a 1 percent cost-of-living increase in the first two years of a three-year contract, in addition to the "step" and "lane" increases teachers already receive.
Union leaders are proposing a freeze for the first half of the third year, but “step" and "lane” increases for the second half of the third year.
According to a press release distributed by District 304 on Tuesday afternoon, each “step” increase will automatically raise a teacher’s salary by 2.65 percent in the first and second years. Similarly, “lane” movement earned for completing eight credit hours of additional coursework, will increase each salary by an additional 2.65 percent for each lane up to the master’s degree, and 5.37 percent for each lane beyond the master’s degree.
For example, under the union proposal, in year one, a teacher would receive a minimum of 2.65 percent “step” increase, plus 1 percent, for a total minimum increase of 3.65 percent. Any applicable “lane” movement leading up to the master’s degree would add 2.65 percent per lane.
A teacher with only one lane movement in the first year would receive a 6.3 percent increase in salary. If the lane movement occurred beyond the master’s degree, the teacher would receive a 9.02 percent increase in the year.
"Traditionally, a number of teachers have moved multiple lanes in a single year, resulting in even greater percentage increases," the District 304 press release said.
During the third year of the GEA's final offer, the union proposes a freeze for the first half of the school year, and “step" and "lane" increases during the remaining half of the year. This equates to approximately 1.3 percent per step, and 1.3 percent per lane movement leading up to the master’s degree, or 2.7 percent after the master’s degree.
"As provided for by law, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board will post the Board of Education’s and the GEA’s final offers on its web page on Friday, Oct. 26," the press release said.
The Board of Education will post both offers on the School District’s web page on that same day.
You can read the full GEA final offer on gea4students.org or in this related article.
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