UPDATED 11/16/18 - Frequently Asked Questions about Negotiations with Champaign Federation of Teachers

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 4:31pm

UPDATED - 11/16/18

The Board of Education has received lots of feedback following the posting of its most recent offer to the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) as part of ongoing contract negotiations. Although the Board is unable to respond to some of the feedback it receives, it would like to offer this FAQ document to further explain its current proposals and rationale.

Question: What happened during the November 14 negotiation session? 

Answer: The Unit 4 community asked both the Board and CFT to compromise to reach an agreement. In that spirit, the Board came to the November 14 bargaining session and made significant concessions. CFT made very little movement and actually reversed its position on one item.

As CFT requested, the Board offered language that would add additional Kindergarten and First Grade classrooms next school year to address immediate capacity concerns. The Board also offered a permanent kindergarten class size cap and offered to assign Teacher Aides or take a number of other actions if the cap was exceeded. CFT rejected this proposal.

As CFT requested, the Board offered teachers paid time to conduct home visits. CFT rejected this proposal.

As CFT requested, the Board offered to establish collaborative professional development planning groups so teachers could offer direction for their own professional growth. CFT rejected this proposal.

CFT also requested that the Board raise its salary offer before offering a counter of its own. In response, the Board again raised its offer for teachers on the salary schedule to 4.1% and 2.75% for those off schedule for each of the next three years. The Board also increased its post-retirement incentive for teachers who elected to participate in the program.

Near the end of the evening, CFT rejected this proposal and said they would not entertain any further proposals until the Board offered off schedule teachers at least 3% and eliminated its request for two additional (paid) professional development days designed to ensure more equitable outcomes for our underperforming groups of students. 

The Board offered both of these things. CFT responded by saying they had additional demands but would not be sharing anything further and were leaving for the evening.

Although the Board was disappointed in CFT’s response to its proposals, the Board looks forward to the next bargaining session on November 20.  

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ORIGINAL POST - 11/9/18

The Board of Education has received lots of feedback following the posting of its most recent offer to the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) as part of ongoing contract negotiations. Although the Board is unable to respond to some of the feedback it receives, it would like to offer this FAQ document to further explain its current proposals and rationale.

CFT and the Board are in complete agreement about many of the challenges facing teachers in their work. Although disagreement remains, in some instances the only point of disagreement is whether or not a given problem can best be solved in a collective bargaining agreement or in one of many other ways; in other instances, the disagreement is merely over the best possible contract language to arrive at a solution to an agreed upon challenge.  

We look forward to our next bargaining session on November 14 and reaching a resolution that reflects our respect for our teachers, as well as our fiscal responsibility on behalf of the Unit 4 taxpayers.

Question:  What is the total compensation package the Board is currently offering as part of its negotiations with CFT?

Answer: The Board is currently offering average raises of 3.8% for all teachers on the salary schedule and 2.5% increases for those off schedule (for each of the next three years). The Board is also increasing its contributions to both single and family insurance over the life of the contract.  As a result, employees should continue to have 100% of their single insurance premiums paid by the Board and the amount the Board pays toward Employee+1 or Family coverage will increase by 50%.  Employees will also be able to enroll in a fully Board paid vision plan once the contract is finalized.  The Board has also agreed to add a number of opportunities for additional compensation (called “stipends” or “differentials”) to allow teachers even more avenues to increase their total compensation.  Additionally, the Board has offered to bring back a retirement incentive program that was popular among teachers prior to its discontinuation a few years ago, which allows the Board to offer additional compensation without triggering a penalty under the recent legislation.     

Question: Are teachers really working without a contract right now?

Answer: As negotiations continue, teachers continue to be paid at the rate they were paid under the previous contract, the District continues to provide health, dental and life insurance, and pension contributions as it had under the previous contract, and the language of the previous contract continues to guide teachers’ daily work.  The Board has agreed that changes that result once a new contract is finalized (including salary) will be applied retroactively to July 1, 2018 so teachers benefit from the updated terms.

Question: Why did the Board wait so long to begin negotiating a new contract with CFT?

Answer: Recognizing that during negotiations in 2012, 2013, and 2016, CFT expressed an intent to strike and the services of a federal mediator were required, the Board was hopeful that it could avoid those measures during this round of negotiations.  For this reason, the Board first reached out to CFT about finalizing a new contract in February 2018, and proposed using a condensed bargaining process that would feature the following:

  • The parties would meet for three consecutive days (a “long weekend”) to finalize a new agreement.
  • Complete proposals from each side would be exchanged two weeks before the long weekend.
  • No “professional negotiators” (lawyers or outside union officials) would be at the bargaining table.
  • If the parties could not reach an agreement in three days, they would request a federal mediator’s assistance immediately.

As an alternative, the Board proposed a “limited reopener” in which the two sides would discuss the salary schedule and insurance contributions only.

The Board reiterated its willingness to accept either of these options in March and April 2018.

CFT did not wish to pursue either option and expressed a preference to continue bargaining using a more traditional model.  As a result, the parties began bargaining on May 16 (a date that was mutually agreed).

Question: How does the Board propose to address rising District enrollment?

Answer: As more families choose Unit 4, the Board agrees that kindergarten class size should be addressed and has proposed to engage a broad group of stakeholders to review, during this school year, ways to best address current District enrollment trends (including Kindergarten class size).  The Board added an additional Kindergarten section for the 2018-2019 school year and is considering adding additional classrooms for the 2019-2020 school year, which will lower class sizes across the District.  As longer term options are evaluated, the Board would like a variety of stakeholders to address whether additional classrooms are a preferred option instead of adding Teacher Aides to existing classes, or if other options might be best.

Question: Why does the Board want to offer teachers more professional growth opportunities?

Answer: Boosting achievement of our underperforming students is one of the Board’s top priorities and we feel that a highly trained staff, focused on equitable outcomes, is one of the best vehicles to achieve this goal.  Teachers spend a considerable amount of unpaid time outside of school hours growing their professional capacity.  The Board also devotes significant resources to offering high quality staff development opportunities during the work day.  Feedback provided by our teachers shows that most of these sessions receive positive reviews from 90%+ of attendees each year.  The Board believes this time is critical for furthering the District’s work around equity and boosting achievement of underperforming groups of students and wants to offer teachers more paid opportunities to engage in this critical work, instead of asking teachers to do this on their own time, in a less structured way, and without compensation.  

Question: Has the Board added new administrative positions recently?

Answer: As the District continues to grow and transform based on the November 2016 referendum, new initiatives such as the federal Magnet Grant, and the fact that people are choosing to live and raise families in Champaign, the Board has added many new positions throughout the organization.  In recent years, the Board has increased the number of teachers, nurses, bus monitors, food service staff, secretaries, and administrators, to name just a few groups.

In October 2013, the Board employed 862 licensed teachers, 62 licensed administrators, and 582 support staff, for a total of 1,506 employees.  In October 2018, the Board employed 906 licensed teachers, 76 licensed administrators, and 667 support staff, for a total of 1,649 employees.

The Board recognizes the demands our society places on schools seem to be increasing every year.  The Board relies on its administrators to shoulder some of the burden placed on teachers so they can spend more time teaching and less time dealing with many of the outside tasks (unfairly) expected of teachers.  

The Board stands behind the hires it has approved and believes additional positions at all levels will likely be needed in the future if current trends continue.  

Question: How will the Board offer more opportunities for teachers to engage families?

Answer: As demonstrated by its support of the Community Schools initiative and the work it did during the November 2016 referendum, the Board agrees that outreach to families and others in the community can be an important and effective method to improve outcomes for students.  Because of this, the Board has offered to provide training (in cooperation with CFT) and paid time for teachers to connect with those we serve.  

Question: Has the Board already paid in excess of $83,000 in legal fees to its attorney for CFT negotiations?

Answer: No. For decades, the Board has worked with a number of outside law firms on various legal matters on which the District needs guidance.  Those firms, Franczek Radelet among them, provide extensive assistance on a variety of issues. Real estate matters, bidding/contracting matters, Special Education matters, personnel matters, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance, defending lawsuits filed against the District or its employees, and matters such as the recent Charter School proposal are examples of items which sometimes require outside counsel. Like doctors, attorneys specialize in certain areas of the law, so the District works with dozens of lawyers in a typical year.  Similarly, CFT utilizes an outside bargaining representative (Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) Field Service Director Jon Nadler) as part of its team. The dollar amounts being quoted in some forums as the legal costs for current CFT negotiations include all sorts of District legal fees, most of which have nothing to do with current collective bargaining. The attorney specifically working with the Board on negotiations has worked with the District since 2005 and has billed $40,110 specifically for current CFT negotiations, as of November 1.

Question: I’m hearing lots of rumors about what the Board and CFT are bargaining about; where can I find more information?

Answer: The Board’s most recent offer, complete with a rationale and cost estimates for its proposals, can be found here.     

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