The Highland Board of Education and the Highland Illinois Teachers’ Education Association have agreed on a new four-year contract.
The HEA voted 99-5 in favor of the new contract on March 13.
“As teachers, we are extremely pleased with the new contract as well as the way negotiations occurred,” the HEA leadership team said in a statement to the News Leader. “The negotiation was cordial, honest, respectful, and included healthy discussion of which both parties shook hands in the end.”
At a special session meeting on March 16, the School Board approved the contract. While board members Steve Price and Robert Miller did not attend the session, the rest of the board unanimously approved the agreement on a 5-0 vote.
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“The meetings were very productive and cooperative,” said Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton. “I believe the process was very positive and the resulting agreement reflects the desire to work together in our district.”
According to the HEA statement, negotiations took place during two informal meetings totaling five hours, held between Sutton and the HEA. They said this was an “unorthodox” approach to a contract agreement, but it worked, because both parties advocated to achieve a goal that benefited both the school district and the community.
“This contract settlement shows a collaborative effort between district leadership, teacher leadership, faculty, and the School Board, and we are hopeful this was a step in the right direction for our staff and community,” the HEA stated.
The positive tone coming out of these negotiation is in stark contract to the prior two contract talks. Teachers went on strike for six days in 2014 before a contract was finally ratified. It was the first teacher strike in the history of the district. In 2011, teachers threatened to walk out after negotiations dragged on well into the school year. However, a deal was eventually agreed to before any work stoppage.
The new contract includes annual increases to the salary schedule that will advance starting base salary — the first time in nine years that money has been added to the salary schedule.
The new contract will increase teacher starting salaries by $1,250 over the next four years, which Sutton and the HEA said will bring starting salary to a competitive level and hopefully attract more teachers.
“We need to address the salary for beginning teachers to ensure we are able to attract excellent candidates,” Sutton said.
Sutton said the district recently experienced a number of retirements and expects no less than six retirements each year for the next three years.
“Both parties are aware of the financial woes of the state of Illinois, which continues to trickle down to all school districts,” the HEA said. “For the district, this is financially conservative and easier to budget, since the salary increase is whole dollar amounts, instead of a percentage. For the teachers, this is the first time in nine years that new money will be added to the HEA contract. The district and HEA are committed to attracting new hires… Due to the modest increase in salary the district can continue to add positions and refill retirement positions.”
Teachers will also receive step increases in each year of the contract.
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