Teachers in Lake Forest #115 picket for better compensation although highest average paid in all of Lake County

November 12, 2011

Unknown to many residents of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff is that in March of this year the State of Illinois Board of Education listed District 115 as one of 61 school districts out of 900 that qualified for placement on its financial “early warning” status list for the past three years because of dwindling reserve funds and steady declines of fund balances. Meanwhile, Lake Forest District 115 continues to spend more than it is taking in with deficit spending of $2 million in 2007 and 2008; $500,000 in 2010, and a projected $1.5 million in 2011  

It matters not that Illinois code requires school districts to maintain reserve fund balances of 20 percent of their operating expenses. The policy at District 115 is to maintain a reserve fund of only 10 percent. Even more disturbing is that the projected and current reserve fund balance of District 115 is a meager 2.5 percent.

Just how might the on-going deficit spending in District 115 dovetail with my felt anger as I drove along McKinley Road past Lake Forest High School around 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4? At the time I had the urge to roll down my car window to respond to the picketing Lake Forest High School teachers as to the foolishness of their actions and the outlandish messages displayed on their sign calling for salary increases.

Were teachers at Lake Forest District 115 attempting to mimic the picketing action of Zion-Benton High School teachers who have been working without a contract since July, as reported in the Lake County News-Sun on Thursday, Nov. 3: “Zee-Bee teachers picket to protest contract talks.”  

It was during the third mediation session on Oct. 31, that the school board of Zion-Benton High School District 126 declared an impasse and walked out on talks with the Lake County Federation of Teachers. At issue is a proposal by the board to adjust the salary schedule – downward. 

I was aware that contract negotiations had likewise come to a stalemate between the union representing Lake Forest High School teachers, whose five-year contract expired on July 1 of this year, and the school board of District 115.  According to attorney Anthony Ficarelli who is representing teachers in District 115, “bargaining talks between representatives of the teacher union and the school board have stalled over issues on salary, benefits and professional development.” 

To illustrate how irrational-sounding and ashamed Lake Forest teachers should feel with their grievance against the board of District 115 for failing to grant what they feel is their due, consider how LFHS teachers ranked second in salary in a statewide analysis released on May 31, 2011. The only high school district in 2010 to top Lake Forest District 115 with its average $101,648 salary for teachers, was Highland Park/Deerfield Township High School District 113, whose teachers averaged $104,737.

The already generous salaries of District 115 teachers do not even reflect additional compensations which could include special bonuses or compensation given for extra duties performed.  

Who among us who work in the private sector wouldn’t relish having their employee (Lake Forest School District 115) pay between 90 percent and 100 percent of individual premiums and between 80 and 100 percent of family premiums, including dental? Yet this agreement was in place during the tenure of the now expired five-year contract. 

Included in the same expired District 115 contract was a negotiated agreement between the board and the union representing teachers to pay for term (benefit = 2x annual salary) and long term disabilities (benefit = 66.7 percent of salary) that a teacher might experience while teaching. 

Other extremely and generous perks awarded to Lake Forest High School teachers stipulated in their expired July 1 negotiated contract were: (1) the payment of their share of TRS contribution and (2) A post-retirement lump sum payment ranging from $12,000 to $34,000 to compensate for legislation passed that no longer allows the spiking of teacher salaries by more than 10 percent in the final years of a teacher’s career. Heretofore, spiking salaries was common practice to build up even fatter teacher pensions upon retirement. 

Of significant note is that teachers can retire after only 30 years of service with full pension benefits. Those of us on Social Security should be so lucky!

Out of my need to know how Lake Forest teachers are really faring in relationship to basic average teacher salaries in other Lake County high schools, I consulted the 2011 Illinois Interactive Report Card, Northern Illinois University, with support from the Illinois State Board of Education, updated on Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.  At the site, a separate Interactive Report Card can be downloaded for every school district in the state of Illinois. Not only are average teacher salaries given, included also are Average Teacher Experience, Instructional Expenditure Per Pupil, Operational Expenditure Per Pupil, Low Income, Demographic Information, and the PSAE assessment of how a school district has measured up to meeting or exceeding state education standards from 2002 through 2011. 

According to the Interactive Report Card issued for Lake Forest High School, its own eight-year school evaluation met and exceeded all subjects with a percent average of 81 percent, yet LFHS received a “no” when judged on having made adequate yearly progress.

Below is a list gleamed from the Illinois Interactive Report Card of the average teacher salary at eight Lake County High Schools. I selected the largest and the best known high school districts in Lake County for comparison.

Lake Forest School District 115 – $106,457; Highland Park/Deerfield District 113 – $106,030; Adlai E. Stevenson District 125 – $97,531; Barrington High School District 220 – $77,655; Warren Township High School District 121 – $70,153; Zion-Benton Township High School 126 – $69,151; Libertyville High School District 70 – $62,884; Waukegan High School District 60 – $56,253.

The figures tell the story. Lake Forest High School teachers now top Highland Park/Deerfield average teacher salaries by a smidgen, yet Lake Forest High School teachers had the audacity to picket for benefits which would most likely exceed those they received during the tenure of their  expired five-year contract! 

Do Lake Forest District 115 teachers have no shame? Having the privilege to teach in such a magnificent, country-club-like high school, which to me seems grossly out-of-bounds as wasteful spending and unnecessary to the process of learning, teachers should be overjoyed with the privilege of teaching in Lake Forest District 115, perhaps even agreeing to a slight pay cut, etc., recognizing that enough is enough for tax payers even in the upscale communities of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff who must foot the bill for their seemingly apparent greed.

Zion-Benton High School District 161 teachers might have had some cause to picket with its average teacher pay of $69,151, believing that a downward schedule of pay would harm the district’s ability to attract and retain good teachers.  

According to a new report from “The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis,” far from being underpaid, the typical public-school teacher makes out very well. While some may be underpaid, the typical public school teacher makes about $1.51 for every dollar made by a private-sector employee with similar skills.

Co-authored by Heritage Senior Policy Analyst Jason Richwine and Andrew G. Biggs, a recent scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, the 16-page report issued on Nov. 1, 2011 concludes “that salaries for public-school teachers generally are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled workers in the private sector. However, the generous fringe benefits offered by public schools raise teacher compensation 52 percent above the going market rate. That’s the equivalent of a $120 billion overpayment charged to taxpayers each year.” http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/10/Assessing-the-Compensation-of-Public-School-Teachers

Concerned taxpayers and citizens need to contact the following Lake Forest District 115 board members demanding that they hold the line on their negotiations with teacher union representatives: Nicki Snoblin at  nsnoblin@gmail.com ; John Scribner at jas@twg.com , Jim Carey at JimCarey536@aol.com ; Todd Burgener at trburgener@gmail.com ; and Dick Block at blockoflf@yahoo.com  




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