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Union, district differ in perspectives on contract points

By Travis DeNeal
Posted on 12/9/2016, 1:36 PM

HARRISBURG – Harrisburg Education Association and Unit 3 School District appear to have significantly different opinions of key contract points, though representatives for both sides say they want to avoid a teachers' strike.

HEA has stated that among the six schools in the Ohio Division of the River to River Conference, Harrisburg educators remain in the bottom band of salaries. HEA President Debbie McGowan provided a comparison prepared by the Illinois Education Association to back that claim Tuesday.

"You can see that we are the second lowest base salary; only Murphysboro and Benton are lower," McGowan said. "We are the lowest top-end salary of all six schools."

According to the comparison, the base salary for a Harrisburg teacher is $36,420. Benton teachers start at $35,729 and Murphysboro teachers earn $34,503. By contrast, West Frankfort teachers start at $37,174; Massac County starts at $40,000 and Herrin starts at $42,050.

The disparity is more noticeable at the top end. Harrisburg teachers earn up to $64,201 with a master's degree plus 32 hours of post-graduate classes. The other top-end salaries in the conference are: Murphysboro, $65,370 (MS+32); Herrin, $73,850 (MS+32); West Frankfort, $74,780 (MS+24); Massac County, $76,100 (MS+30); and Benton, $76,881(MS+24).

Teachers may earn additional stipends by taking coaching, sponsorship or other extra-duty positions.

Harrisburg superintendent Mike Gauch said he understands that teachers are frustrated that they earn less than some comparable schools.

However, he said, the district's tax base simply does not support what the teachers have proposed for raises.

"Apparently, a district like Herrin has a better tax base than we do here, and can support higher salaries," Gauch said.

HEA proposed two options. The first is a one-year contract with a step increase, a makeup raise for a step increase promised but not yet delivered both parties call the "lost step increase," a 2-percent base salary increase, a $1,200-per-year increase to the school board's health insurance contribution and longevity pay for 11 teachers subject to a salary freeze in the 2014-2015 school year.

The second option is a three-year contract with a Year One step increase, a 3-percent base salary increase and a $1,200 increase to the district's health insurance contribution.Year Two would see a step increase, 2-percent base salary increase and a $15 monthly increase to the district's health insurance contribution. Year Three would be identical to Year Two.

Gauch said the union's one-year deal would equate to an average raise of $3,700 per teacher and would cost the district $500,000 more. He said the three-year contract would equate to an average raise of $6,800 over three years and would cost the district another $1.9 million during the three years.

He said the district's proposals are a one-year contract with a step increase that equated to an average salary increase of $917.64 for each eligible teacher with a cost of an extra $85,000. The district's three-year deal would see a Year One step increase, a Year Two step increase plus recovery of the lost step increase if 100 percent of General State Aid funding was received in June 2017 and another step increase in Year Three. He said it would amount to an average raise of $3,670 over the three years at an extra expense of $500,000 to the district.

McGowan said the union's offers were not unrealistic – it simply improved salary parity with other districts for the moment.

"Even if we were to get the amount we requested in our initial three-year contract proposal, our base salary would still be lower than Herrin and Massac and our top-end salary would be lower than all of the schools except Murphysboro," she said. "This is assuming that those schools do not get raises over the next three years, in which case we would likely be at the bottom in both categories."

She also said there is room in the middle between the two sides' positions.

"The HEA was very willing to negotiate these initial proposals but so far we have not been given that opportunity," she said. "So, while it would be nice to get the amount that we initially requested, we are hopeful that we can come to some compromise that will be acceptable to both sides and keep us from losing any teachers."

Meanwhile, Gauch said he believes both sides will continue trying to hammer out an agreement and avoid a strike. The National Labor Relations Board assigned a mediator early this fall to assist in the negotiations. Though both sides have met with the mediator at least twice, a new contract remains elusive.

"We will continue to schedule these meetings as long as the teachers are willing to meet," Gauch said. "We're hopeful we can continue to reach an agreement."

Part 2 will examine rising insurance costs on contract considerations and why reinstating the "lost" step increase is a hot-button issue.

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