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Unit 5 board OKs new contracts, staff returns with better pay

Members of the Unit 5 school board sit at a table with Superintendent Kristen Weikle, during a meeting at Normal West Community High School cafeteria.
Michele Steinbacher
The Unit 5 school board meets Wednesday, July 19, 2023, at Normal West Community High School.

Unit 5 leaders say newly-approved boosts to educators' pay will give the district a competitive edge in attracting employees.

On Wednesday, during its meeting at Normal West Community High School, the Unit 5 school board OK’d the pay increases as part of four-year contracts approved for the teachers' union, support professionals union, superintendent Kristen Weikle, and other staff.

Beginning this year, the average starting teacher will earn $42,000 a year — 5% more than the same position last year. Starting support professionals will see their wages jump 25%, to $18 per hour.

These and other pay increases mean “Unit 5 will be able to offer more competitive wages and benefits as compared to other local districts, other large unit districts, and even local businesses,” Weikle told the board.

Also at its monthly meeting, the board approved a new open attendance area to handle expected housing growth, and a nearly $30,000 settlement in a former employee's sexual harassment lawsuit.

Unit 5 educators see better pay

On Wednesday, the school board approved new four-year contracts for the Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), representing district teachers; and the Unit Five Support Professionals Association (UFSPA) that covers many paraprofessionals and office personnel.

Board members Stan Gozur and Mark Adams abstained from the UFEA contract vote, due to family conflicts of interest.

An Illinois law that takes effect in January requires starting Illinois public school teachers to be paid a minimum of $40,000. But Unit 5, in bumping its starting rate to $42,000, will see benefits in recruitment, Weikle said after the meeting.

She noted the statewide $15 minimum wage rate also is coming soon, and at a time when the district already is having a hard time competing for the local employee pool. So, it made sense to boost the starting support professional rate to $18, from $14.

"With the current job market out there, I think people see what's going on," said board member Jeremy DeHaai. "We had some contracts and negotiated some good deals that will help us retain folks, bring new people in, but also make sure we maintain the fiscal responsibility of the district."

The board needs to ensure the district attracts highly qualified employees for the students' benefit, added board president Kelly Pyle.

"I do think that this is a great way to show our staff, administrators, teachers, that we do value the work that you do, and we thank you so much for your service," she said.

A union representatives at Wednesday's meeting also praised the UFEA and UFSPA agreements.

Ben Matthews, the UniServ director with the Illinois Education Association, said after the meeting that members are relieved negotiations are finished. This year was a good result, he said, after more than a decade of a difficult bargaining climate, with public education having faced some real challenges.

“This contract, I think, finally recognizes the work our members do in a way that is meaningful — that not only rewards the work they do, but will make us (Unit 5) attractive to people, and help us fill some of the vacancies that we’ve been facing,” said Matthews.

“So, we’re very encouraged in that regard. We think it gives us a real good point to build from in the future.”

The board also unanimously OK’d wage and benefit rates for specific classes of employees not represented by unions, including:

  • Administration — increases range from 2% to 5.5%, with additional salary compensation ranges between $75 and $225 per pay period. The budget impact is about $462,500.
  • Technology —  5% increases for technology staff. The starting salary for each tech position will be $37,750 — a $1,500 increase. This will cost the district an extra $60,500.
  • EOP exempt, OT/PT/OTA/PTA, medical, and educational support — 5.5% increase for eligible staff members, with an overall budget impact of $135,000.
  • Food service —  6% increase to each step in Tier 1, bringing the starting hourly wage to $20.14; and increasing the Tier 2 starting hourly wage to $16.50. The budget impact is roughly $110,000.

Board praises Weikle's leadership; OKs 4% raise

In Weikle’s four-year contract, approved Wednesday, she’ll see a nearly 4% raise for the upcoming school year. That brings her annual base salary to about $206,000 for 2023-2024, with possible raises through 2027. The contract replaces one the board OK’d last year that was set to run through 2026.

Superintendent Kristen Weikle explained the district’s current situation — focused on a deficit of about $12 million — to about 40 members of the public, part of a series of community meetings on the topic.
Colin Hardman
Superintendent Kristen Weikle

As was the case with her previous package, the district will provide retirement fund and health insurance contributions, and provide group life insurance. Weikle also will receive a $4,500 annual travel stipend.

Board members praised Weikle for navigating several challenging years.

“We’d like to commend you for your excellent leadership,” said board member Amy Roser.

“You haven’t had a normal year yet, in Unit 5,” she said, noting Weikle arrived at the start of the pandemic; and then was at the helm twice as voters considered a tax referendum.

“We have seen what you can do in unprecedented times. We’re excited to see your leadership skills in just a typical year,” she said.

Board member Mark Adams said Weikle’s leadership inspires him to be more involved in the district.

Sixth open attendance area OK'd

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved a sixth open attendance area (OAA) — at Raab Road in Normal. That’s in anticipation of the Archer development expected to add about 135 housing units in that area.

Traditionally, students living in that part of town would attend Fairview Elementary School. But Weikle told the board the school won’t be able to accommodate the growth.

Instead, students living in OAA #6 will be assigned to Fairview, Sugar Creek, or Carlock elementary schools.

For decades Unit 5 only had two OAA zones. But in December, the board approved a third, fourth and fifth area, as developers began launching more new housing plans across Bloomington-Normal.

District administrators closely monitor new housing developments planned within McLean County’s largest district, said Weikle.

“As our community continues to grow and change we are working with Cropper GIS on a demographic study including the utilization, demographic and mapping services for the district,” said Weikle, adding the study results will be used in strategic planning this fall.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a $28,500 settlement withformer employee LaNell Greenberg, relating to her 2020 sexual harassment lawsuit. There was no discussion before or after the vote.
  • OK’d spending about $19,000 on its annual contract with SchoolMessenger.
  • Heard from DeHaai that between 2018 and 2022, the district saved about $3 million in energy costs by implementing campus optimizers in facilities.
  • Heard the district is partnering with the Back to School Alliance for its Aug. 8, invitation-only giveaway. The nonprofit provides school supplies and backpacks to income-eligible students who are enrolled by Aug. 1 in Unit 5 or District 87 schools.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.