They called it the best agreement available.
After being about $1 million apart to start the day and with salary increases on the table, contract negotiators for the school district and Lawrence teachers rapidly moved toward a tentative agreement Wednesday evening.
Lawrence Education Association negotiators dropped their offer for raises twice through the session, and district negotiators also came up by about $200,000.
"We looked for things that don't cost them very much money that we could ask them to give us, so that we could come to an agreement on salary," said Kelly Barker, LEA's lead negotiator.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement to add $1.2 million overall to the teachers' salary schedule - a 3.28 percent increase from last year. The two sides had already agreed to add $130,000 to fringe benefits, and the tentative agreement tacks on the extra $140,000 cost to the district's early-retirement policy.
Deputy Superintendent Bruce Passman said the tentative agreement showed that the two sides reached a lot of common ground. He also said district negotiators and board members wished they had more money to add to salaries this year.
"In the meantime, we think we've done as good as we can do for this year getting to about a 3.5 percent raise," he said.
The sides have negotiated since February, and during Wednesday evening's session, at times more than 50 teachers packed the negotiating room at district headquarters.
Before Wednesday, LEA negotiators had proposed adding $2.1 million to the salary schedule; district negotiators had offered a salary schedule boost of just more than $1 million.
The two sides have committees formed to study for future years how to address changes to the early retirement system and on how to provide more elementary teacher planning time. The proposed salary schedule is based on giving an $850 raise to a teacher with a master's degree, 10 more credit hours and 15 years in the district. That teacher would make $48,850.
Barker, a Southwest Junior High School teacher, said negotiators also agreed to allow teachers next year to use two more sick-leave days as personal business days.
"I think it's hard for anybody to walk out of this agreement happy," he said. "We all realize it's just the best agreement that was available on the table. It's not the agreement either side would have liked to have been in."
Lead district negotiator Kim Bodensteiner called the agreement very tentative because the district's team did not have the authority to go that high. School board members will have a special meeting soon about granting that authority. Passman said he expected that to happen. Board members Craig Grant and Rich Minder helped negotiate the deal.
If approved, then it would go back to all teachers for a ratification vote likely within two weeks. If teachers approve it, board members would then make a final vote.
"I think it's the best settlement that is available, and I think our members will understand," Barker said.