A teacher who heads the Lawrence Education Assn. will be granted half-time status to work on projects that improve classroom instruction.
Third-grade teacher Wayne Kruse likely will finish No. 1 in excused absences this year at Quail Run School.
But he won't devote 90 days away from class tinkering with a golf swing or devouring daytime soaps.
Under a new program negotiated as part of the Lawrence district's master agreement with teachers, the central administration and Lawrence Education Assn. agreed to finance half-time release for the association's president -- Kruse -- to focus on projects intended to improve education throughout the 25-school district.
The association represents teachers in annual labor negotiations. About 530 of the district's 875 teachers belong to the union, which reflects a 25 percent increase over five years.
Kruse will have an office at Lawrence High, but spend much of his release time interacting with teachers on their turf.
"That's what I really like -- getting out into the classes."
His first question to each teacher will be: What do you need to be better?
Kruse said his priority would be to ease the transition of new teachers to the district.
"My goal is to foster clear communication and collegial behavior between teachers and administrators," he said. "What I want is teachers and administrators working together to improve student learning."
Kruse's absences will be covered by Michelle Kirk, who decided to teach half-time this year.
"It worked out perfectly," Kruse said.
They decided not to equally divide each day. Instead, they developed a work calendar that has both teaching the same number of full days. That means they'll either teach two or three days a week. On Wednesdays they'll meet to discuss academic plans for the next week.
Kruse vowed not to participate in union-building activities during the time he's released from teaching.
"It's not like I'll be out causing trouble," he said.
The compensation plan for Kruse reflects the interest-based bargaining approach relied upon by the association and the central administration. The union and district agreed to commit $2,500 each to the president's half-time salary. Sick days donated by teachers will make up the remainder.
District teachers receive 10 sick days a year. They accumulate to a maximum of one work year, meaning veteran teachers often donate extra sick days to pools for use by colleagues.
Surveys of LEA members indicated willingness to contribute enough sick days to cover the union president's absence.
"It has been very, very well received," said Patti Bailey, LEA's labor negotiator. "This is something membership feels very strongly about."
Lawrence school board member Scott Morgan questioned why the district should pay part of Kruse's salary for time he worked as president of the Lawrence Education Assn.
"It's a little odd," he said.
Bailey said numerous Kansas school districts provided full- or half-time release to union presidents. The list includes Topeka, Olathe, Wichita, Blue Valley and Kansas City, Kan.
The only part of the Lawrence plan that is unusual is the use of sick days to cover part of a salary, Bailey said.
School board member Austin Turney said the program was crafted to allow each association president to collaborate with Supt. Kathleen Williams on initiatives of mutual interest.
The released association presidents will be additional sets of eyes and ears in the schools helping to identify ways of improving educational opportunities, Turney said.
"It's really flexible," he said. "There is really a substantial benefit."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is email@example.com.