Palatine-area District 15’s new 10-year contract ‘unprecedented’

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 25, 2016

Palatine-area District 15’s new 10-year contract ‘unprecedented’

Residents of suburban Chicago’s Community Consolidated School District 15 have seen their incomes remain flat – or drop. Meanwhile, school district officials have committed these same taxpayers to fund a 10-year contract, which the public has never seen.

Palatine-area Community Consolidated School District 15 just voted to saddle taxpayers with a 10-year contract the taxpayers never got to review or approve.

Moreover, the former head of the teachers union that will benefit from the deal negotiated on behalf of the district – and taxpayers.

The district has not yet revealed complete details of the contract to the public, even though the district voted in favor of the terms April 13. In fact, the school board voted in favor of the deal before the parties had finished drafting the contract.

But the available information about the contract should concern taxpayers. The contract’s 10-year duration is “unusually long,” the contract guarantees raises that vastly outpace local taxpayers’ own income growth, and the longtime president of the teachers’ union was one of three people negotiating with the union on behalf of the district.

Steady raises in a district where median incomes are stagnant

The future financial consequences of this contract could be devastating for local taxpayers. While District 15 residents have been left in the dark regarding much of the contract, the district has admitted the contract guarantees raises every year: approximately 2.5 percent raises in each of the first four years, along with 4 percent raises in each of the last six years.

By contrast, median income for private-sector workers in the Palatine area has grown only 0.68 percent each year between 2009 and 2014. At that rate, income “growth” has not even kept up with inflation – meaning the real value of private-sector employee earnings has actually fallen for District 15’s residents.

Under the new 10-year contract, District 15 taxpayers, who already face stagnant earnings and decreased purchasing power, will be contractually bound to provide increasing salaries even if – four or more years down the line – the economy cannot sustain such increases. In Illinois, that sort of financial pitfall is more than mere speculation.

District 15 contract’s 10-year duration is unprecedented

The 10-year duration is unprecedented for the district, and perhaps in the state of Illinois. The deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Ben Schwarm, said he is unaware of other 10-year teacher contracts. The previous District 15 contract was for four years.

This likely means the union is seeking to lock in a good deal now because it fears less beneficial circumstances in the future. For example, teachers unions in Michigan pushed for lengthy contracts in 2013, seeking to avoid implications of the state’s newly enacted (but not yet implemented) right-to-work law. While statewide right-to-work legislation is not imminently on the horizon in Illinois, it certainly plays a role in the governor’s turnaround agenda. And municipalities interested in enacting local right-to-work ordinances can look to the village of Lincolnshire, which became the first to do so in December 2015.

Taxpayers likely will never know the true motivation for this particular 10-year contract, but the union certainly appears driven to lure the district into a deal with immediate and long-lasting benefits for the union – leaving taxpayers to face the future financial consequences.

Closed-door negotiations favored the union

The 10-year duration and extensive salary increases are not surprising, given the fact that the negotiation table slanted considerably in favor of the union. Lisa Nuss, the current head of the district’s human resources department, left her position as president of the Classroom Teachers’ Council of District 15 in June 2015 and started her school district job in July 2015. The district did not publicly disclose Nuss’ hiring before it occurred; Superintendent Scott Thompson admitted that there was no application process and that he “asked Lisa Nuss to consider taking the position.”

Only months later, Nuss began bargaining with the very union she formerly led.

Thereafter, it was up to Nuss, Thompson – who had handpicked Nuss – and one other district representative to negotiate with the teachers union.

Such backroom dealing should incense District 15’s taxpayers. The school district has allowed a former teachers union president to negotiate a deal that locks taxpayers into a 10-year contract with annual salary increases, while taxpayer earnings cannot even keep up with inflation.

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