A hard stance required by LF School Board District 115 with the Lake Forest High School Teacher Union
July 28, 2012
For most residents of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff, checking the Lake Forest Community High School District 115 Board of Education website is not a priority. There have, however, been a couple edifying postings as of late concerning contract negotiations with the union representing the LFHS teachers.
A recent article by editor Steve Sadin of Lake Forest PATCH also updated the results of the negotiation sessions held on June 17 and July 19. The meetings involved a federal mediator engaged to assist the negotiations with the Lake Forest Education Union (LFEU) and the District 115 Board in reaching an agreement on a new contract for the 2012-2013 school year. The issues that remain to be resolved predictably involve salaries and benefits.
The proposal presented by the Union at the July 19 meeting called for a three-year contract with an average annual increase in compensation (salary and benefits) of 6.7 percent. The Board of Education’s proposal included a competitive average annual increase in compensation of 3.6 percent which is very generous, particularly given our faltering economy and the 27+ % (5.5% annually) pay hikes teachers received over a five year period pursuant to their prior 5-year contract which expired in June of 2011.
The Board of Education is seeking an economic concession of minimal contributions from teachers enrolled in the HMO family plan. Currently the district pays 100% of their insurance coverage. The Board also wants to transition away from offering health care plans to new hires that would result in hefty taxes to the district due to the Affordable Health Care Act. Employers in the private sector are increasingly requiring employee contributions to health insurance premiums, even for employees enrolled in HMO’s. Why should LFHS teachers as public employees have the total cost of their healthcare paid for by Lake Forest and Lake Bluff taxpayers?
If the Board of Education and the Union, with the assistance of the outside mediator, cannot produce a mutually acceptable agreement before the new school year starts on August 27th, the Board should take a hard stance against the Union if necessary to keep teachers’ salaries and benefits at a reasonable level considering these hard economic times. Though the disruption of a strike would certainly not be welcome, the continuing burden on taxpayers of supporting the ever-increasing costs of public education is even less welcome.
It seems to this taxpayer that current wages and benefits are extraordinarily generous, particularly in these times of economic distress, severely depressed property values, and high unemployment rates.
As related in a book written by Bill Zettler of the Family Taxpayers Foundation, “Illinois Pension Scam“, when considering salary and pension benefits, etc., the total cost of educating one Lake Forest High School pupil is a staggering $43,061. As such, LFHS ranks as #1 in the entire state of Illinois in cost per student.
Moreover, in a Lake Forester “Letter to the Editor” submitted by me and published on May 14, 2012 –Fiscal discipline is called for at Lake Forest High School — in 2011 ninety-four teachers at LFHS received $100,000 plus salaries and another thirty-eight in the $90,000 to 100,000 range. That means that 132 out of 159 teachers employed in District 115 – 83% of its teachers – make at least $90,000, with the highest listed at $184,000. Keep in mind that a person who earns over $90,000 a year is in the top 20% of all U.S. wage earners.
The above salary information can be reviewed at a Teacher Salary Database for Lake Forest CHSD 115 for 2011 at the Family Tax Payers website.
Not to be forgotten is that LFHS teacher benefit packages, including health insurance and pensions, add many thousands of dollars a year to teachers’ overall compensation package.
Regarding pensions, a LFHS teacher who retires at age 55 at a $100,000 salary level has every chance of receiving a pension of $100,000 per year by the time he/she reaches what is considered retirement age for many individuals at age 65, given the built-in 3% compounding yearly pension cost-of-living adjustment that SS recipients often do not receive.
It cannot be disputed that this is big money, although teachers are prone to say that they work hard, and many do, and that they earn every penny of it.
Although good teachers can make a huge difference in a child’s life, consider the compensation to the time teachers are involved in the actual work of teaching.
If weekends, school holidays, and the summer break are excluded, there are only 183 school days a year. Teachers will take umbrage and say that they take work home to grade and further cite preparation time done outside of the school day. However, such time spent outside of the school day is becoming more and more the exception rather than the rule. For most subjects, teachers do not collect and grade homework and since many tests are multiple choice, they are graded by a computer. Additionally, teachers get free periods to prepare and to grade papers as bargaining has set a limit to the number of classes a teacher can teach every day.
Using the conservative figure of $100,000 in salary per year as representative of the cost of the average LFHS teacher, if $100,000 were divided by the number of school days (183), most LFHS teachers are earning at least $546 plus benefits for every school day. Not bad at all!
At these pay levels, it may well be that some Lake Bluff/Lake Forest residents would be lining up as replacements should the LFHS teachers go out on strike. An extra income would be very helpful to families struggling to afford the hefty Lake Forest and Lake Bluff taxes that finance the salaries of LFHS teachers!
In an article published in the U.S. News about “Best Jobs 2012,” the job of a high school teacher received an overall score of 5.4 when considering Median Salary, Job Satisfaction, Number of Jobs and Unemployment rate. Using information as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for high school teachers was $53,230 in 2012. The best-paid 10% made approximately $83,230, while the bottom 10% made approximately $35,020.
Keeping in mind this average wage figure of $53,230, the vast majority of LFHS teachers even without any raise earn far more than the average median wage for high school teachers nationally. As to the ninety-four LFHS teachers earning salaries of $100,000 plus, their compensation is twice the national average high school salary.
The U.S. News article does go on to cite the areas in the U.S. where high school teachers’ salaries are the highest. The Chicago metropolitan area is included, along with Nassau, N.Y., New York City, the Lawrence and Salem, Mass. area, and the city of Santa Ana and Anaheim, California.
Average compensation for high school teachers in the Chicago area amounts to $74,210, which is still about $20,000 less than what 83% of LFHS teachers earn.
Given the tough economic times, many private employers are requesting drastic reductions in pay and benefits. For example, just this month, one of the largest steelmakers in the U.S. announced that it is seeking a 36% cut in wage and pay benefits.
Insofar as teachers are public sector, taxpayer-paid employees, it would not seem too draconian should the District 115 Board insist on maintaining a wage and benefits freeze. It seems that the Union’s balking at the 3.6% increase offered by the Board is looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.
In urging the Board not to acquiesce any further to the Union’s demands, I do not intend to single out teachers. I, along with other residents of Lake Bluff and Lake Forest, was shocked and dismayed when I learned last year about the extraordinarily high salary and benefits package accorded to now former superintendent Harry Griffith. It is not just teachers’ compensation and it is not just the cost of schools in general; the public sector overall needs belt-tightening and taxpayers need relief!
Teachers obviously play a very important role in Lake Forest District 115 and in our society in general; they most certainly deserve fair compensation. But just as the private sector has been forced to make difficult adjustments in compensation (especially in medical and pension benefits) to reflect the harsh economic times, our School Board must similarly make adjustment in fairness to the taxpayers of Lake Bluff and Lake Forest.