Kelly Barker, lead negotiator for the LEA, and Kim Bodensteiner, lead negotiator for the school board, discuss elementary plan time and early retirement
Negotiators for Lawrence's school board and teachers inched a little closer toward an agreement on two controversial topics Tuesday night: planning time and early retirement.
Progress was made on a top issue for the teachers: increasing elementary plan time, said Kelly Barker, lead negotiator for the Lawrence Education Association.
"We've been studying it for a time and we've finally gotten to the point where we believe we have a solution," Barker said.
And on a top issue for the school board - restructuring early retirement so it doesn't cost so much - negotiators studied a plan similar to one used in Salina's school district.
But negotiators still have not discussed salary issues, which generally are put off until after the Kansas Legislature decides on a school finance package. They plan to continue meeting weekly through May 8.
During Tuesday's talks, negotiators went over details on how to get more plan time for kindergarten teachers and teachers at the East Heights Early Childhood Center.
All of the district's elementary teachers now get 190 minutes for planning during their work week. The LEA goal is to increase that in the next school year to 325 minutes a week.
"Secondary teachers in high school get 325 minutes, and we're trying to get elementary teachers to be equitable with that group," Barker said.
The LEA eventually would like to bring the plan time for all teachers up to the 420 weekly minutes that junior high teachers have, Barker said.
Estimates indicate that allowing elementary teachers more plan time will cost up to $1.7 million because it would mean hiring 25 to 30 more teachers, said Kim Bodensteiner, lead negotiator for the school board.
During the next two weeks, district administrators will work to see whether they can get exact figures on the cost at each of the district's elementary schools, Bodensteiner said.
Negotiators also are studying a proposed early retirement plan that is similar to one being used in Salina schools, where defined contributions are made into a retirement program.
Currently, eligible Lawrence teachers can receive an early retirement benefit for five years. Eligibility is based on a formula that includes the person's age and his or her time of service.
To get the benefit, a teacher must be eligible for the state's retirement system and have worked in the local district for at least 15 years.
Several years ago the district was able to fund early retirement because higher-paid teachers were being replaced by newer, lower-paid teachers.
But as more baby boomers reach retirement age, costs have gone up. Next year it will cost the district $600,000 to replace teachers going into early retirement, Bodensteiner said.
Both Barker and Bodensteiner said the idea is to phase in a new plan, but to make sure people who are eligible for early retirement do not lose any benefits.
"The idea would be to run two parallel programs at the same time," Bodensteiner said.