Although Lawrence teachers receive higher salaries than are found in most Kansas school districts, Lawrence's average teacher salary still lags behind that of teachers nationwide, and some local teachers say they would like to see that gap filled.
The average Lawrence teacher salary, including fringe benefits, stands at $32,955. That's up from $31,633 in 1990-91, the last school year for which there are state and national comparative figures.
The Kansas Department of Education reports that the state's average teacher salary in 1990-91 was $29,767, or 94.1 percent of the average salary in Lawrence last school year.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers reports that 1990-91 teaching salaries nationwide, not including fringe benefits, averaged $32,880. Kansas' 1990-91 average salary excluding fringe benefits was estimated at $28,248, or 85.7 percent of the national average. And the 1990-91 Lawrence average salary excluding fringe benefits stood at $29,917, or 91 percent of the national average.
Carol Abrahamson, a third-grade teacher at Hillcrest School and a past president of the Lawrence Education Assn., said she realizes that salary comparisons should be considered in the context of geographical differences.
"ALASKA HAS really high salaries in order to attract people there," Abrahamson said of the country's northernmost state, which had the highest average teacher salary last school year of $43,406. The cost of living in Alaska also is high.
Abrahamson also noted that the cost of living is considerably higher on the coasts, a factor that influences salaries there. Last school year, New York and California had the third- and fifth-highest average teacher salaries.
Still, Abrahamson said, "Teachers in Lawrence and Kansas ought to at least reach the national average."
In terms of teaching experience, Kansas and Lawrence teachers fall close to the average for teachers nationwide. In 1990-91, Kansas and Lawrence teachers both had an average of 13.9 years of teaching experience. The national average that same year was 14.8 years, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
But Sam Rabiola, a history teacher at Lawrence High School, said there are measures of teachers' merit other than their years of experience.
"I DON'T think the community would be satisfied with just average (student) test scores, and overall we fall far above that," Rabiola said. "If the teachers are expected to be higher than average, it seems we should have a higher-than-average salary to go along with that."
Lawrence school board member Tom Murray said he is interested not only in how the district salaries compare at the state and national level, but in how local salaries compare to those offered in area districts.
"I would not like to see us lose a teacher to Blue Valley or Shawnee Mission," Murray said. "Every consideration should be given to pay the types of salaries that can hire the best teachers."
The Shawnee Mission district, located in the Kansas City suburbs, had an average teacher salary last year of $35,364, the highest in the state. The average salary in the Blue Valley district was $31,402, or $231 below the Lawrence average.
Harriet Shaffer, another school board member, said she has become more empathetic with teachers since becoming an elementary school counselor in the Shawnee Heights school district this fall. Shaffer is on that district's teacher salary schedule, which paid teachers an average of $28,396 last school year.
"I DO THINK teachers do work very hard for the money they get," Shaffer said. "Some children come to school now with problems that I wasn't aware of when I taught 20 years ago. Teaching is a draining, demanding job, and teachers should be rewarded monetarily."
Shaffer said she realizes that the Lawrence district's base salary, upon which all teacher salaries are based, is lower than the base salary found in other area districts. However, she said, "Our salary schedule is built to give a little more reward to people who stay in the district and who receive more education."
A Lawrence teacher with nine years in the district and a master's degree, which roughly describes the average Lawrence teacher, earns $26,886. A teacher with the same years in the district and 40 hours of college credit beyond a master's degree earns $29,037. And a teacher with a master's degree and 13 years in the district earns $30,112.
However, said Millard Denny, LHS English teacher, there are "gaps" in the salary schedule in which teachers don't receive pay increases for longevity unless there's an increase in the base salary.
For example, teachers who have been in the district 16 years would not get another increase based on longevity until their 21st year in the district. And teachers like Denny who have been in the district more than 21 years are not eligible for any further pay increases for longevity.
"THERE SEEMS to be a lot of teacher loyalty to the district, but the district runs out of a way to reward that loyalty," Denny said.
Lawrence school board member John Tacha said he would like the board to study the possibility of merit pay as a way to encourage the district's outstanding teachers to stay in Lawrence.
"Our best people at times get frustrated with the system, and we lose them," Tacha said. "I think merit pay is important because more than ever before we need the best people in education."
Tacha said he didn't think it would be too difficult to recognize the district's outstanding teachers.
"If you've got really strong principals at each building who are visiting the classrooms and working with individual teachers all year long, I think it could happen," Tacha said.