Teachers sound off to school board as contract negotiations drag on

Faculty Senate says union, district 'currently have a tentative agreement' on the table

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

February marks the 1-year anniversary of the start of contract negotiations between the Oak Park and River Forest High School Faculty Senate and the District 200 school board. 

The two sides are close to hammering out a new agreement to replace the last one that was ratified in 2014. In a statement, Faculty Senate Chairwoman Sheila Hardin said that the two sides "currently have a tentative agreement with the board of education and hope to present the offer to the faculty this week."

In interviews and written statements throughout the negotiation process, D200 school board members expressed their commitment to balancing deep support and appreciation for teachers and students with their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

But that didn't stop a few hundred teachers from packing the school's old library space during a Jan. 24 board meeting to remind the public about the rigors of the job.  

Paul Collins, a lifelong Oak Parker who teaches special education and coaches wrestling at the high school, said teachers have been working "as if the contract had been settled months ago."  

The four teachers who spoke during the meeting's public comment portion described a job that requires total dedication; that consumes nights and weekends and eats into family and personal time; and that is both satisfying and frustrating.

"This is a very difficult job," said Matt McMurray, a history teacher and varsity girl's golf coach. "The hours required year-round to do this job at a high level are grueling and seemingly unending, but we do it — day in and day out.

"We do it and we do it at an elite level," he said. "We do it at a sacrifice to our families, our social lives and our own personal desires. We do it in spite of the negative perceptions and constant attacks on our profession, often from those who have never done this job themselves. We do it because we love our students and the difference we can make in their lives. We do it because of our deep commitment to serving our community that we all hold so dear."

Veteran teacher Naomi Hildner described the experiences of her son, an OPRF graduate and former corporate attorney who "decided he needed to live a life that would have meaning and count for something, so he quit, went back to school and is now completing his student teaching at OPRF — his own high school that he fondly remembers from years back."

Hildner said every day her son "frets about every one of his students" and changes his lesson plans multiple times. He is learning "that this tortuous practice is the life of a teacher. … Just wait until he surrenders his weekends to grading."

Hardin, an OPRF math teacher, echoed the sentiments of the teachers who spoke before her and thanked "the 285 faculty members for their professionalism as they've worked without a contract this year."

"While the thousands of periods that we've taught represent a large part of our day," Hardin said, "it does not represent the full story of what we do." The scope of teachers' work goes well beyond what's defined in a union contract, she added, then went into a litany of off-the-clock tasks that, when considered in totality, explain why teaching is such a life-consuming profession.

The before- and after-school and lunchtime meetings with students, the summers spent prepping for new curriculum, the extracurricular activities teachers attend to show support for students, the 1,200 college recommendations teachers write for each senior class and more, Hardin explained.

"We are here for the students of OPRF," she said. "They are our focus and this focus has never faltered as we've worked without a contract."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2019 1:47 PM

Can you say "Referendum"? So a new teachers' contract, a quarter billion dollar school redo, D97's diversity program, over $10M in unfunded pensions. Show me the line items that will be cut to pay for all this, please. I'm tapped out. At almost $10K in total taxes, my 1500 square foot palace is becoming a money pit that I am having a difficult time affording and maintaining. And I can't go to my boss and just tell him I need an X% raise because OP needs more money.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: February 15th, 2019 1:37 PM

@Marc, thanks. I very much agree with your last sentence. I also reread the article and this part stood out for me: "The four teachers who spoke......described a job that requires total dedication; that consumes nights and weekends and eats into family and personal time; and that is both satisfying and frustrating." I first thought that this description more accurately describes police officers - not teachers. My second thought was of my son. He's also responsible for leading and teaching many teenagers, too. He's an OPRF grad and Captain in the USMC. Finally, one of the teachers spoke of "grueling and seemingly unending.......at an elite level, etc." I appreciate his commitment, but, really.....it's not life or death. Can't beat the 100% job security and benefits, either!

Marc Martinez  

Posted: February 15th, 2019 11:02 AM

Hi, Michael. This website is very good, it is the Illinois Board of Education school report card. It includes lots of financial information. https://www.illinoisreportcard.com/School.aspx?source=teachers&Schoolid=060162000130001 The average OPRF teacher makes $104,000 per year. 60% higher than the state average. Also 30% higher than the average Oak Park household income. And I agree with Ramona. Every professional and most non-professionals are dedicated, work hard and put in extra hours. We also do it all 12 months a year. That is about 248 work days vs the 176 for teachers. 40% more work for the 30% lower average income. Another good site to get an ideas of the total comp for teachers - http://pointsandfigures.com/2010/10/05/how-much-does-a-teacher-really-make/ But between the teachers, the palace builders, and spendthrift board, I despair for our future taxes.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: February 13th, 2019 9:11 AM

@RL, thanks. I honestly have the greatest respect for the OPRF teachers (my kids are grads, I'm a grad and both of my parents were grads, too - and so I believe I have "perspective" on this matter) but it's no secret that the community is maxed out on taxes. Even the recent WJ editorial is in agreement on this: https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/2-12-2019/Tax-gifts-and-tax-fibs/#Comment-ec362964088316fad4fa388c9aaf5ae5. IL is one of the top states where people are fleeing and taxes (and crime) are the reasons. I ask our well-compensated OPRF teachers to recognize this.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 8:30 PM

I'll help you out Mr Nevins: Paul Collins $111,000 Matt MacMurray $106,000 Naomi $135,000 All will retire in their mid 50's and make 3 times more per year what what I will on social security if I work until I'm 70. And by law, school only has to be in session I think 175 days a year. I have news for all the teachers; you just described what almost every professional does. Extra hours, weekends, spending our own money, etc. Yes, your job is hard and you should be compensated well, I just don't think you should be compensated like that for the rest of your life.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: February 12th, 2019 8:04 PM

Is OPRF a "family business?" I'm certain that Ms. Hildner's son is wonderful, but didn't Berrios do the same thing with his relatives as OPRF does? That's alright? I don't know what these faculty members earn in salary and benefits, but, for perspective, it would be nice to have this info attached to their comments. We know that none of them are indentured servants and so are free to leave this job at any time. I'd also like to know what their projected pensions will be? I know that the vast majority of these teachers will be retiring around 54/55 and their pensions will be higher than $100,000 per year. Yes, "perspective" is important - particularly when many of their neighbors are earning much less and are fleeing OP and IL because of the taxes.

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