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Archive for Monday, February 9, 2004

Teachers union to get tough

Amid budget constraints, group to fight for better salaries, benefits

February 9, 2004

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The union representing Lawrence's 900 public school teachers is preparing to take a more aggressive approach to shaping education policy in the district.

Wayne Kruse, president of Lawrence Education Assn., said advocates in the union would insist the administration and school board retain a commitment to reducing student class sizes, start chipping away at the avalanche of paperwork and meetings required of teachers, and improve salaries and benefits.

"You're going to see a more assertive effort on our part," said Kruse, who is in his fifth year as the association's president. "Teachers in Lawrence public schools are going to be stepping forward and have a very strong message: 'Here's what we believe.'"

In recent years, the union had concentrated on a low-key, behind-the-scenes approach to advocacy.

Kruse said pending decisions about budget cuts in the district made it necessary to flex the membership's muscle.

"I hope there is an understanding and respect for us as professionals that gosh, those who work daily with our kids, those who work daily in our schools, they do know what's best for our kids," Kruse said.

If not satisfied by the district's response to the union's positions, Kruse didn't rule out unspecified "job actions."

Teachers are prohibited by state law from striking, but might engage in on-the-job work slowdowns.

The association's effort to wield more influence would coincide with district deliberations about options for slashing expenditures by $2 million to balance the 2004-2005 school year budget.

School board members have emphasized that the search for savings wouldn't be hindered by designation of sacred cows. That led to discussion among district administrators about teacher layoffs and increases in the number of students in each classroom.

Board member Sue Morgan said she would be grateful if Lawrence's teachers became more visible lobbyists for public education.

"When they're advocating for students and helping us educate the public about realities of education in these days and times, that's an asset," Morgan said.

Linda Robinson, another school board member, said a more politically active teacher's union would be terrific if the membership was well informed about the issues.

It's doubtful, she said, that the association's rank-and-file are fully aware of financial pressures on the district.

Holli Joyce, a volunteer at Pinckney School and a founder of Community Connections, a Lawrence group dedicated to improving the exchange of information between parents and teachers, said people in Lawrence who felt passionately about education issues should speak out.

"I would like to feel that teachers as a group, as an organized voice, have an opinion about what their priorities are," Joyce said.

She said there was too much apathy among teachers and parents regarding school affairs.

"There is a feeling that somebody else can be responsible for it," Joyce said.

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