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Unit 5 Nudges Toward Salary Equity

Unit 5 district offices
Teachers and administrators in Unit 5 agree educators have been underpaid in the district.

Starting teachers in the Unit 5 school district will do a little better next year under a new contract approved by the school board.
The two-year agreement raises new teacher base pay by nearly 7 percent to $37,000. The nearly $2,400 increase is seen as a move to keep the district competitive in efforts to attract and retain educators.

Unit 5 attorney Curt Richardson said the district remains uncompetitive compared to other large school districts.

"They are in the $38,000 to $40,000 a year range, and we're not there," said Richardson.

He said Unit 5's teacher starting salary is better than rural districts in central Illinois.

Teacher Starting Salaries

Richardson and Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel acknowledged the quality of life in Bloomington-Normal and the proximity to Illinois State University and its production of young educators help Unit 5 fill the need for teachers.

Even after the increase, Unit 5 remains below District 87, Champaign, Urbana, Heyworth, and Olympia starting salaries.

But Daniel said Unit 5 is not exempt from the pressures of a nationwide teacher shortage.

"We are having teachers for a full year as student teachers and they are leaving and going to other districts and sometimes the salary discrepancy is a valid reason," said Daniel.

Unit 5's payroll this year is $54.2 million, said Richardson. The new contract will add about 4.5 percent to that, or roughly $2.3 million, said Richardson. Inexperienced teachers will see the largest increase, and the jump will be incorporated into the various steps of the salary schedule, said Richardson.

"The percentage increase falls the more experience and qualifications an educator has, because the base is higher," said Richardson.

And yet, the cost of the contract is not sustainable. Unit 5 is choosing to use reserves to pay for the extra salary expense, according to Daniel.

There is even legislation in Springfield this session that would mandate a $40,000 starting salary for first-year teachers. Daniel said he does not think that will pass, but it is a significant sign of the impact of the teacher shortage that such a measure would be a topic of conversation.

"We need to rethink what is happening on salary structures with our educators and quite frankly the demands of teaching are very different than they were even 1- years ago. It is far more complicated and very demanding," said Daniel.

Daniel said the move was necessary.

"There is a reason fewer people are entering the teaching profession. If you try to compete with jobs in other industries, we are still pretty low on that scale," said Daniel.

Daniel said Unit 5 is moving more toward the mid-range of competitiveness within the education field, but it is the right direction.

The increase in base pay in Unit 5 comes after a freeze last year and several years of half step increases instead of the usual full step changes on the salary schedule, according to Richardson.

The contract takes effect in mid-August when the old agreement expires, and covers about 933 teachers and certified staff in Unit 5.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.