After five years with no raise, Chester Upland teachers approve new contract

Chester Upland School District teachers have narrowly approved a three-year contract after rejecting an offer in January and working without a pact for more than three years.
The 234-member Chester Upland Education Association voted, 78-65, in favor of the agreement. It allows some teachers to move up a salary step -- an incremental, experience-based pay raise built into most teacher contracts -- in each of the three years, with a $472 hike in the overall scale in the second year. Those at the top of the 13-step scale, or 18 percent of the staff, will get a $1,000 bonus in the first year and $500 in the second year of the contract.
School district receiver Peter R. Barz said he planned to approve the deal at the next school board meeting, on Thursday.
“Every teacher is getting an acceptable increase,” he said.
However, union president Michele Paulick said that after working five years without a raise, teachers are not happy.
“It’s not what we want, it’s not what we deserve,” she said of the contract, approved March 2. “People are tired and they’re frustrated.” 
For the first time, teachers will have to pay a portion of their health care premiums: 6 percent the first year, then 7 percent in the following two years. The cost to those with a family plan who are the top of the pay scale would be as high as $1,300 annually, essentially wiping out bonuses, she said.
The average salary is about $75,000.
In January, the union rejected a similar offer that would have added two steps to the scale, and given extra pay to teachers at the district’s STEM at Showalter School, a science and technology school for grades 7 to 12.
This time around, “it was a very difficult decision,” said Paulick. “What it came down to is the realization that the district does not have the funds to offer any more. Do we stay in status quo and not get anything, or do we take a contract that isn’t what we deserve and move on?”
Teachers worked without pay at the start of the current school year because Chester Upland -- under state contract due to long-standing financial and academic troubles -- had run out of money and had a $7.5 million budget deficit. The district’s fiscal woes have worsened in recent years as more students head to charter schools, for which the school system must foot the bill.