D159 hiring decisions irk teachers union
Ginger Brashinger Correspondent May 3, 2013 11:42PM
Updated: June 6, 2013 6:34AM
Mokena District 159’s recent hiring decisions has created hard feelings with the Mokena Teachers Association.
Last month, the school board hired six certified staff members who were given teaching experience credits beyond their actual experience — determinations usually made by the Step or longevity part of the teachers contract, according to association president Toni Sozstak.
Teachers had agreed to a pay freeze for the 2010-2011 school year and to foregoing Step increases for the current three-year contract to help the district through a financial crunch.
“It is demeaning and demoralizing to be frozen on the same Step for four years and see this advantage casually handed to new employees who are not only not frozen, but have jumped over the salaries of our own teachers,” Sozstak told the school board last week.
Four of the six new hires were with the Lincoln-Way Special Education 843 District.
District 159 brought the early childhood program and some special education programs back to the district as a result of New Lenox District 122 leaving the cooperative as a cost-saving measure.
According to district documents, Christine Grzybowski, a speech and language pathologist with three years’ experience in the public school system and a master’s degree, received credit for eight years experience. Michele Spencer, early childhood teacher with five years experience at District 843 and various teaching duties in several districts from 2000 to 2006, received 11 years teaching credit. Stacie Soroka, social worker with eight years’ experience in District 159 and District 843 was given 12 years’ teaching experience.
Sozstak said the situation “becomes even more complicated” because a first-year teacher hired by the district will remain on Step 1 while Katherine O’Neil, a newly-hired Early Start program teacher with one year’s experience, will be given credit on the pay scale for three years’ experience, “a 5 percent raise according to our contract,” Sozstak said.
Steve Stein, District 159’s outgoing superintendent, said the salary and Step decisions were done through the collaborative efforts of the administration.
“I don’t know that anybody was given extra Steps per se,” Stein said. “It’s been common practice to give seven year’s experience for a master’s degree.”
Five of the new hires have master’s degrees and a sixth, Laura Henly, school psychologist, has a doctorate degree.
Sozstak, who has been with the district for 23 years as a teacher at Mokena Elementary School and Mokena Junior High, said the district has not commonly given seven years’ experience for a master’s degree.
She said past practice in the district has been to give new certified hires between one and three years’ experience credit.
“We don’t mind if they get credit for their master’s degree, but when they don’t have their years of experience, how can you give them more (than they had)?” Sozstak said.
“It throws everybody’s salary off.”
Stein said the district will be saving money when the District 843 teachers work in District 159.
“Salary-wise, we will be spending less on special education than we did last year,” Stein said.
Sozstak said it would have been more cost-effective to hire the best new candidates out of college at a time when there are “a multitude of jobless teachers” who would be “grateful to be hired at our entry level of $36,308 for the 2013-2014 school year.”
She said the district’s hiring decision “just breeds hard feelings.”