Geneseo School Board, GEA approve 3-year contract

Lisa Depies

About this story: The Geneseo School Board and the Geneseo teachers' union have agreed to a three-year contract. Officials on both sides are pleased with the contract. The school board said it was important to have a contract in place before the district superintendent retires next spring.

A new three-year teachers’ contract has been approved by both the Geneseo School Board and the Geneseo Education Association (GEA), the district’s union. The new contract takes effect in August and will continue through the end of the 2019-20 school year.

The contract was unanimously approved by the school board at a special meeting on Thursday, July 13.

GEA members voted on Wednesday, June 28, but allowed time for absentee votes to be cast. The final GEA count was 102 for the contract and 10 against. The union represents 154 teachers in the district.

“The GEA bargaining team felt that there was give and take on both sides, and we applaud the efforts of everyone involved to keep the tone positive,” said GEA co-presidents Jill DePauw and Melanie Henderson in an e-mail response to questions from the Geneseo Republic.

School board president Doug Ford said the GEA bargaining team and school board officials meet a total of nine times to negotiate the contract.

“The GEA bargaining team was great. They understand the financial pressures the district was under, and we all communicated well from start to finish,” said Ford, who said the final result was “a good contract.”

Ford noted the Geneseo contract negotiations are “very unique” for an Illinois school district.

“We do it ourselves. We’re not doing it with attorneys, but we sit down and hammer it out together,” he said.

Superintendent Scott Kuffel said the new contract “gave validation to the really hard work done in 2014” noting the new contract didn’t contain many changes from that prior contract.

“I think the contract shows a fine balance between fiscal responsibility and financial concerns expressed by the community and teachers wanting to make sure they’re treated fairly and shown value for the work they do,” said Kuffel.

DePauw and Henderson listed highlights of the new contract as:

• GEA members will continued to be covered under their existing insurance plan.

• Those entering retirement will continue to be eligible for existing incentives.

• The starting salary for a new teacher was $30,369 and will be $35,000 for the 2017-18 school year. It will then increase to a little over $36,000 by the end of the three-year contract. “This makes Geneseo just as competitive as surrounding districts for attracting new hires,” said DePauw and Henderson.

• The base salary of $35,000 will be used to calculate leadership team and teacher mentoring opportunities as well as the activities and athletics stipends.

• The contract contains a teacher mentoring article. DePauw and Henderson said most districts don’t include teacher mentoring language in their contracts. “The school board and GEA strongly value the integration of teachers new to the profession as well as those new to our district,” said the GEA presidents.

• There are opportunities for teachers to grow professionally through masters’ programs, endorsements and National Board certification and receive compensation upon completion.

• The monetary compensation a teacher will receive each year is based on teacher experience levels which the GEA presidents said was “greatly appreciated by our members.”

• A leadership model in the district will continue with each building having a leadership team comprised of teacher and administrators as well as a district teaching and learning team that will plan full-day inservices and assist staff with ongoing professional development opportunities.

“The end result is something we should all be proud of considering the lack of support for education from the state of Illinois,” wrote DePauw and Henderson.

Approving a three-year contract “shows there’s trust between us and the union,” said the school board president.

Ford added having a contract in place will assist the school board in their upcoming search for a new superintendent. Kuffel will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

“When superintendents look at a district, one of the things they look at are contracts and how well negotiations have gone,” said Ford.

A bitter contract negotiation or ensuing strike “can take a community years to get past,” he said.

The three-year contract also will give the new superintendent “time to settle in and figure things out before we have to negotiate another contract” said Ford.

For the GEA, having a three-year contract approved means “we have a solid plan in place for our teachers, again in a time of great uncertainty over school funding, so this is something to celebrate,” said Henderson and DePauw.

“Members were pleased with the continued support of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Program shown by our board of education and, overall, were genuinely thankful to see board support for what we do day in and day out for our students in District 228,” said the GEA presidents.