Contract negotiations between the Rockford Public School Board, the Rockford Education Association (REA), and the Rockford Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA) concluded quickly this year in an attempt to balance the district’s budget in the face of more funding cuts from the state.
Rockford Public Schools’ (RPS) teachers and support staff accepted two years of compensation cuts that average around $7,000 per employee. These cuts come on top of last year’s concessions of about $3,000 per employee.
Cuts were agreed upon in the form of pay freezes, loss of steps (years of service compensation), additional contributions into health care benefits, and a weaker benefits package. With the state legislature threatening bargaining rights and the district’s low fund equity balance, REA and RESPA took some of the deepest cuts in the county in order to maintain programming and smaller class sizes. Rockford administrators took the same cuts negotiated by REA.
During this two-year contract, both sides are hopeful that better economic stability will allow staff to recover some of their sacrifices. REA and RESPA are encouraged by Dr. Michael Shibler and the school board’s commitment to
RPS teachers, administration and support staff.
“We need to be able to offer competitive compensation for our employees so we can attract the best teachers, administrators, and support staff we can hire,” said Dr. Shibler, Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools.
With the concessions made at the bargaining table and other budget decisions by the school board, Rockford will be able to call back nine of the 25 teachers who received pink slips at the beginning of June.
“It is a difficult time to be in education right now,” said Linda Spencer, REA vice president and head of the Bargaining Committee. “People go into education because they love kids and want to give them the best education possible, but the political climate right now makes it very difficult to keep morale high.”
REA, RESPA, administration, and the school board will be working together to maintain RPS’ standards of exemplary education even in the face of very difficult economic times.
Ultimately, the district’s budgetary fate lies in the hands of the state legislature. Public school funding is neither equitable nor consistent. Just for one example, Forest Hills Public Schools receives $8,800,000 more per year from the state than Rockford Public Schools. Rockford residents need to contact their legislators and demand equitable funding for all public school students. With equitable funding, Rockford could recall all of its teachers and reinstate full programming K-12.