With staff members from only eight schools reporting, the Lawrence Education Assn. on Thursday secured enough votes to ratify its 1996-97 contract with the school board.
The LEA needed 221 votes to ratify. That represents 25 percent of its membership, plus one vote.
"We're already up to 263, and that's with eight schools," Valerie Johnson-Powell, LEA president, said Thursday night.
The contract contains an average 3.6 percent pay increase for teachers. About half of that amount represents what teachers receive for meeting additional college hour or longevity requirements.
Johnson-Powell, who's been an LEA negotiator since 1986 and the group's president for three years, said the overwhelming support from teachers was due, in large part, to a new negotiation process that teams followed this year. Negotiators for the school board and the LEA moved away from confrontational bargaining used in past years to collaborative bargaining.
In that process, members of the two teams have worked together to address issues such as the district's leave policy, how a reduction in force would be implemented and the district's transfer policy.
"People are thrilled with the process," Johnson-Powell said, "and most people feel great about the board's attitude and their support of the process. ... Teachers like the concept, and I think there's just an upbeat feeling in the schools. It's not an us-against-them attitude."
Negotiators for both teams plan to meet throughout the 1996-97 school year to address issues so that not all negotiations occur in the second semester.
Even though enough votes were secured on Thursday, Johnson-Powell said voting would continue today, as planned.
"We're not done ratifying yet," she said. "We're going to keep taking the vote."