Teachers from the Carbondale School District 95 picket for a contract while they chant at the President of the District 95 School Board, Catherine Field, “Stop telling lies!” Nov. 9, 2022 in front of Lewis School in Carbondale, Ill. (dmartinez_powell.photography)
Teachers from the Carbondale School District 95 picket for a contract while they chant at the President of the District 95 School Board, Catherine Field, “Stop telling lies!” Nov. 9, 2022 in front of Lewis School in Carbondale, Ill.

dmartinez_powell.photography

Carbondale teacher’s union demonstrate for fair contract

November 16, 2022

On the afternoon of November 9, nearly 50 demonstrators showed their support for the Carbondale Education Association (CEA) by picketing in front of Lewis Elementary School.

The protest came as a result of an ongoing contract dispute between the CEA and the School District 95 Board in which the CEA has already filed an intent to strike.

“We’ve been working without a contract since the beginning of the school year,” said Cecile McCarron, a regional council representative for the CEA. “We want to catch up. We want fair contracts.”

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She said the negotiations for a contract with the CEA were supposed to begin in March of 2022, but did not come to the table for discussions until June for contracts set to begin in August.

“They’ve met but we have not been meeting face to face. They have refused to meet with us face to face,” McCarron said.

She said the four main points of contention in their negotiations are maintaining an equal class size among classrooms, increasing the planning time allotted for their lessons, maintaining their current retirement package and health insurance coverage for their 134 teachers.

“Carbondale Middle School departments are seeing class sections with enrollments that are not balanced,” she said. “Some teachers are working with double or even triple the number of students as others with the same job title, so it’s quite a concern.”

A community release from the President of the District 95 School Board, Catherine Field, released at the end of the school day November 9, addressed the grievances of healthcare and retirement from the other side of the negotiating table, though it neglects to address educators’ concerns with classroom sizes.

“As matters currently stand, the outstanding items being negotiated center mostly on economics: retirement incentives, salaries and health insurance,” she said.

She said Carbondale Elementary provides approximately 9% of the annual income of instructors to the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS).

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According to her, the amount, combined with a package that pays teachers additional amounts scaling with their salary during their last five years up to $12,500 with the district before retirement, cannot be financially maintained indefinitely.

“The retirement incentive and salaries in place for Carbondale Elementary teachers during their last working years are not sustainable for the district financially,” Field said.

McCarron said the plan is necessary for teachers as TRS serves as the pension system for educators in Illinois.

“The cost savings for [the cut to retirement benefits] is huge. Teachers do not get Social Security,” she said. “We should value our long serving educators and ensure that benefits they have been promised will be here when they need it most during our retirement years.”

Field said the average salary for Carbondale Elementary teachers sits at $71,054 before benefits, making them some of the highest paid teachers in Southern Illinois. Morgan Kozlowski, a student with the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Teacher Education Program, said this covers only a part of the truth.

“What the [community release] didn’t say was how that was the average of all of the district employees, so all of the six figure people up at the top, not just the underpaid teachers,” Kozlowski said. “So it really fluffed up that number to make it look like all the teachers were making a fair amount of money.”

According to a document on the District 95 website, the salary of teachers entering with a Bachelor’s degree begins as low as $45,313 per year, building up over the length of the instructor’s tenure. However, the district’s average rate of retention for teachers over the past 6 years according to its Illinois Report Card amounts to 81%, growing quickly up to its current height of 89% for the 2022-23 school year.

In a previous interview with McCarren, she said the large amount of turnover at the school makes properly educating students more and more difficult.

“When we have fewer educators, other teachers are forced to pick up the work. It adds extra responsibility and stress to the system,” she said. 

The combination of high turnover and low starting wages at the school indicate a discrepancy in the presentation of Field’s argument, as the number of teachers with Bachelor’s degrees accounts for nearly half of the employed educators according to the Illinois Report Card, necessitating the inclusion of much higher salaries to reach the $71,054 benchmark.

“[Fields] conveniently leaves out some things, especially some things that we talk about in our talking points,” said Amber Ragsdale, president of the CEA. “She’s not giving the full picture. No, she’s painting it, obviously, from their side.”

McCarron said a school board meeting will take place Thursday, November 10 and asked community members to come and show their support.

“We can come together and get a fair contract that not only benefits the teachers, but most importantly students and the community,” she said.

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