News Local/State

Picketing Champaign Teachers Say Pay Is Only A Piece Of The Puzzle


Teachers from Champaign's Unit 4 school district picket outside of the district's administrative offices. Anna Casey/Illinois Public Media

Dozens of Champaign teachers turned out to a rally Thursday afternoon outside of the Unit 4 administrative offices as contract negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school district continue.

Earlier in the week, the Champaign Federation of Teachers and Unit 4  released their respective proposals for what they’d like to see in the new teacher contract. The last one expired in June of this year. Some of the major sticking points highlighted by both sides were over pay, class size and professional development.

Wendy Maxson, a kindergarten teacher at Robeson Elementary was one the teachers who picketed along Windsor Road during a cold rain Thursday afternoon. She said class sizes in the earlier grades have become too large in the district.

“This is the main one for me,” Maxson said as she paced the sidewalk in a line of teachers. “I don’t care that I’m going to go from a 4 percent (pay) increase to a 2.5, or whatever it’s going to be… to me it’s the class size and doing what we need to do to better serve our kids.” 

The Champaign Federation of Teachers has proposed placing a cap on kindergarten class sizes, which they say have swelled to nearly 30 students in some classrooms. The school district countered in its  Oct. 31 proposal that it also views class size as an issue, and the “board has been providing additional staff to support some larger classrooms for the past several years.” The Unit 4 proposal also contended that  “research on the effects of class size on student achievement is mixed.”

But Maxson said her experience is that the number of students does impact learning, and she invited administrators to come to her classroom. “Maybe we can figure out how we can get a few kids into another classroom and then see the difference,” she said.

Teachers have also called for a pay increase, although union members who organized Thursday’s rally said it wasn’t their main concern. The school board offered a total average increase of 3.8 percent, while the Champaign Federation had proposed a total average increase of 5.25 percent for teachers on the salary schedule. Earlier this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that caps teacher salary increases at 3 percent in the last four years of employment, and exceeding that could result in a penalty, the district said. 

The teachers' union has accused the district of dragging its heels on a new contract, allowing the legislation to go into effect in June before a new contract could be agreed upon.

Aside from smaller class sizes and a salary increase, teachers at Thursday's rally also brought up concerns over professional development. The district has required training days for teachers known as Institute/School Improvement Days, during which students aren't in the classroom. The district has said the trainings are critical for "work around equity and boosting achievement of underperforming groups of students."

The union says the district has taken a "one size fits all" approach to the trainings, and is asking for more say in the type of professional development they attend.

"The needs of a first-year teacher are going to be really different than myself, who is a veteran teacher," said Amber Owens, a music teacher who helped organize Thursday's rally. "I’ve been in the classroom for 18 years now. We don’t need the same thing. And to be able to recognize that, and have the choice would be really nice.” 

The next bargaining session between the district and the union is scheduled for Nov. 14.