Salaries and fringe benefits are the major hang-ups with the contract negotiations between the Lawrence school district and the Lawrence Education Association.
While concessions have been made on both sides regarding language of the contract, the money issues are still being worked out.
The district team presented its first package deal Wednesday night at the negotiations meeting. It included the team’s original proposal of a zero percent increase in health care benefits and a pay raise only for those teachers moving horizontally on the pay scale, meaning they have completed more education.
After groups held team-only meetings, the teachers presented a counteroffer that brought their original request for a 30 percent buy-up for fringe benefits down to 15 percent. A 30 percent buy-up would cost the district an additional $2 million; the 15 percent buy-up would be half that. The teachers also wanted to include a higher salary for those teachers moving both horizontally and vertically on the pay scale, meaning those teachers who move up the experience scale would also get a raise.
The district’s horizontal movement plan would cost $150,000. The teacher’s plan for movement both ways could cost closer to $725,000, but that figure isn’t exact because of new teacher hires and their place on the pay scale.
“I think it’s fair to say that we felt that the board’s package showed that they were really serious about negotiating and coming to a settlement. We are also,” said Lois Orth-Lopes, the teachers’ chief negotiator.
The district’s chief negotiator, Frank Harwood, said the district must now figure out what the potential cost of the salary piece would be. Both teams have scheduled a meeting for Sept. 16 to see the final figures.
“This year for the board, after cutting significantly from last year’s budget to this year’s budget, the prospect of cutting again for next year, the board is going to have to feel like there really is the money there to do that with and also be looking forward,” Harwood said.
Orth-Lopes said that while her team knows the economy isn’t good, teachers want to know exactly how much money is available, especially after stimulus dollars were handed down from the federal government.
“We’re sitting right now, even with our increases, realizing that some people will actually have a smaller paycheck than they’ve had in the past,” Orth-Lopes said. “What we’re trying to do is minimize that as much as possible.”
Once a final agreement is reached, at least half of the certified staff pool must vote on it, and a majority of those voting must approve it. The Lawrence school board must also ratify the contract with a majority.