Fighting contract concessions, teachers in Illinois’ Evergreen Park School District went on strike yesterday. About 80 members of AFT Local 943 marched along picket lines just southwest of Chicago’s city limits.The Evergreen Park school board is trying to impose upon teachers smaller retirement packages and increased contributions to health insurance. Other school board demands mirror some that helped prompt the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike: the school board wants to tie teacher compensation to student standardized-test scores, and to lower raises for paraprofessionals and support staff.But the school board’s requested cuts don’t appear to be driven by fiscal crisis. The Chicago Tribune notes that the district has $16 million in reserve funds, triple the state requirement. “This isn’t about the fiscal health [of the school district.] They were trying to punish the teachers,” said Dave Comerford, a spokesperson for the teachers, to the Tribune.
In defense of the proposed cuts, school board President Bruce Hyman has complained, “Over the last three years, administrative salaries have risen at a rate of approximately 2 percent, while teacher salaries have risen at the rate of approximately 6 percent.” However, district administrators make about $2,000 more than the statewide average administrator salary of $109,759; district teachers make about $2,000 less than the statewide average teacher salary of $64,978. Hyman did not say whether he thought administrators should be paid more or teachers should be paid less.The school board proposal would diminish teachers’ regular raises while tying 1 percent “bonus raises” to student performance on a high stakes, one-hour exam called the Measures of Academic Progress Assessment. Union leaders oppose this measure. School districts pay about $12 per student for NWEA’s exams, which are administered electronically. The company that produces the exam, Northwest Evaluation Association, has seen revenue triple to $87 million in the last five years. Meanwhile, a 2010 study of Chicago Public Schools’ “merit pay” program notes [PDF]: We found no evidence that the program raised student test scores. Student achievement growth as measured by average math and reading scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) did not differ significantly between TAP [Teacher Advancement Program] and comparable non-TAP schools. We also found that TAP did not have a detectable impact on rates of teacher retention in the school or district during the second year it was rolled out in the district.Talks have not been scheduled to restart.