Teachers rally for new contract; school start in jeopardy


Hundreds of District 203 teachers gathered outside of Naperville North Monday afternoon in a demonstration of solidarity amid a contract impasse that could endanger the start of the school year.  

The group began at the high school and made their way to Washington Junior High School, where the district’s board of education meeting was being held. They gathered to show their numbers in support of two main issues in the new contract: longer paid parental leave and higher compensation, which Naperville Unit Education Association President Dan Iverson explained in a speech to the crowd.

“We need to let [the district] know that there are more than just a few people out there arguing for this…,” Iverson said. “We are going to make our voices heard by our presence.”

The most recent contract between the NUEA and District 203 expired on June 30 of this year, but the union has been meeting regularly with the district since January, according to a community message posted by the district on July 27. The two parties disagree about salary, paid parental leave and more. The details of the district’s offer are outlined in a presentation on the district’s website, which was posted on July 29. The District 203 presentation argues that 203 teachers are well compensated as compared to a selection of Chicago suburban schools. 

Understanding what this means for students at North is a complex task. Senior Maya Kang-Chou could see this issue impacting her experience in the classroom. 

“There probably are teachers who are more money-motivated, so if they’re not getting paid what they want, they might not put in as much effort. I think it’s a very real possibility that how much teachers are paid could affect the way we experience school,” Kang-Chou said. 

Others, like senior Owen Perdew, do not view teachers’ paid parental leave and salary raises as issues that will heavily impact students. 

“I don’t particularly feel strongly about those things, just because I’m not deeply personally affected,” Perdew said. “Unless the teachers go on strike, I don’t really see how this would impact us much.”

The union is demanding a larger salary increase in part because they argue the district is asking more of teachers than they have in the past, in accordance with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, which is designed to help all students meet their learning targets. MTSS requires teachers to meet with more students outside of the classroom and design interventions for struggling students. The district argues MTSS doesn’t extend the teacher work day; the union says MTSS increases teachers’ overall workload. 

“That’s what teaching ought to be: every single student achieving to the maximum of his or her potential. We as NUEA stand strong with the district that way, absolutely,” Iverson said in his speech. “But we also recognize that it’s a hell of a lot of work…if you want a better service, you pay more for it.”

As a result of the increased outreach that the teachers are asked to do, multiple teachers at the protest felt that the compensation issue does have real implications in the classroom, one of them being NNHS science teacher Jerry Kedziora.

“This is important relative to students because we want teachers and we want students invested in one another. Fair compensation would help continue that investment that we make in students and I think that’s important because of those relationships that we try to build throughout the year,” Kedziora said. 

Representing the other side of the disagreement, the district’s presentation detailing its most recent offer to the NUEA includes multiple slides with the title “How do Naperville 203 Educator Salaries Compare to Other Districts?” The slides show that the average salary in District 203 is higher than other districts for teachers across education levels. Timothy Johnson, a Naperville North social studies teacher and protest attendee, disagrees with the sentiment behind the comparison. 

“Comparing districts to other districts is apples and oranges. That’s wrong. The service that is delivered here is top notch and way above some of the other services that are delivered around us,” Johnson said at the protest. 

If the district and the NUEA are not able to reach an agreement before the school year starts, there is potential for the union to go on strike, which would delay the school’s start date, currently scheduled for Aug. 19. 

This possibility means that after a year of Covid-based schedule turmoil, District 203 students could face another upheaval.

“I think parents are very eager to get kids back in school, and if a strike delays that, they would be very upset,” North senior Harrison Boelke said. “A lot of students care a lot about going back to school, but they are definitely more numb to change than usual after last year.”

Some students, like junior Teagan Keane, feel differently about the same topic— they may be even more prepared to deal with this change if it arises. 

“If school was pushed back, I would be more adaptable and willing to change than I might have been a year ago,” Keane said. 

While negotiations continue, it remains unclear whether an agreement will be reached by the time Aug. 19 arrives. Either way, the NUEA was able to demonstrate its numbers today at Naperville North. 

“We have a pretty simple message: family leave and value added salary,” Iverson said in his speech. “We want a fair contract and we want it as fast as possible. “

Zayna Quraishi contributed to this story.