URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A dispute between the Urbana School District and the teacher’s union could be headed to court.
Middle school teacher Chuck Koplinski is behind the lawsuit.
We do want to mention that Koplinski appears on WCIA 3 to review movies. This report is independent and separate from his appearances.
Koplinski says this could affect dozen or more Urbana teachers. Soon, we could be seeing more of these battles, because the district’s superintendent says, thanks to a state law, this case doesn’t surprise him at all.
Koplinski, an eighth grade language arts instructor, is a student as much as he is a teacher.
“I did a lot of additional education in a very short period of time,” he says, “It moved me up the pay scale very quickly.”
Under the Urbana teachers union’s contract, he says his 30 extra continuing education hours should have entitled him to about a 12 percent raise But the district only gave him half that, because of another part the contract states that if teachers are within 10 years of being eligible for retirement (which Koplinski is), their raises are capped at a six percent a year.
The thing is, six percent was the state pension code’s threshold at the time. If the district did give him a raise of more than that, they would have had to pay more money into the Teacher Retirement System.
“So basically, what I’m contending is that I should have been paid what the contract stipulated,” says Koplinski, “They are saying, no they can’t do that, because of this six percent state cap.”
Urbana Superintendent Don Owen says he can’t talk about Koplinski’s case, but he says the district doesn’t believe the union contract constitutes age discrimination, because factors other than age determine retirement eligibility, like years of service.
“The language in the collective bargaining agreement is designed to prevent the district from having to pay penalties into the teacher retirement system,” says Owen, “There are several school districts across the state that are in the exact same situation as Urbana schools….It is a state-created problem, and it’s a problem that’s affecting all people who pay into TRS.”
Owen says the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has been in contact with them. But since Koplinski says he still hasn’t gotten his raise, the EEOC sued the district. Koplinski hopes his case can not only recover some retroactive pay for him, but also for all the other teachers in his situation.
“It prevents veteran teachers from giving the experience that they have,” says Koplinski, “For example, if I were a baseball coach, there’s no way I could have coached a team. There’s no way that I can do extracurricular activities, because there’s no way I could be paid, because of this.
“My intent in bringing this to the union’s attention moving forward, isn’t just me. It should affect all the other teachers in the district that are impacted by this. And really, I hope it has a statewide effect.”
Owen believes a court will have to interpret how union contracts are supposed to mesh with the state pension code cap. Furthermore, he says says teacher pay problems are only going to get worse. As previously explained. as teachers get closer to being eligible to retire, the state pension code caps their yearly pay raises. That used to be six percent, (as it was in Koplinski’s case). But the new state budget changed it to just three percent. That means, as older teachers gain more qualifications, more and more of them could run into the same issue.