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Contracts: Considerations, Comparisons, and Concerns

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You've been applying, interviewing, hoping and waiting. Finally...you have a job offer! All that hard work has paid off. The district is sending you a contract. What next? The immediate response is to accept the offer and end the job-search agony. Is that wise? Not without careful deliberation and scrutiny.

The first rule in accepting positions is to NEVER sign a contract without knowing its parameters. The second rule is to remember what other bloggers have warned: a contract is a binding legal document. Once you sign it, you are obligated to work for that district. Absolutely. No turning back. No second thoughts.

So...how do you know if you are getting a good deal? You may have never seen a contract, much less signed one. What should you consider, as you decide whether or not to accept an offer? Surprisingly, it's not just about salary. Contracts can address many facets of employment. Here's a guide to some potential contract components. Think about them as you evaluate your offer.

Salary (be sure to examine the district's salary schedule):
• Starting salary
• Highest salary on the schedule
• Number of lanes/steps (rate/means of progression)
• Method of disbursement (monthly, weekly, etc.)
• Name and type of plan
• Areas of coverage - e.g. medical, psychological, dental, life, disability, vision
• Cost to employee (amount withdrawn from paycheck)
• Options to add family members - and at what rate?
•Reimbursement for courses taken
• Choice of institution to attend...does the district have an agreement with specific institutions?
• Number and types of courses for which you can be reimbursed
• Grade requirements
Time Off:
• Vacation days
• Sick days (and provisions for long-term medical leave)
• Allowance for personal days/emergency leave days
• Provision for sabbaticals
Professional Development:
• Coverage of fees/costs - registration, organizational membership, materials
• Compensation for travel/meal/hotel
• Number and type of permitted professional activities
• Percent paid by the district
• Percent paid by employee
• Mandatory retirement age
• Earliest retirement age
• Conditions to be met for retirement
• Union dues
• Mentoring programs - do they exist, and, if so, for how long? Other parameters?

As you review the provisions of the contract, consider that you are potentially beginning a long, rewarding career with an excellent district. Make sure that the job offer and your own career goals are compatible. Once you have signed a satisfactory contract, don't forget to celebrate!

Dr. Dawn S. Jones
Assistant Director/Online Advisor, Career Services
Northern Illinois University

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