The state’s budget crisis will be a major factor in the Lawrence school district’s teacher contract negotiations, leaders for both sides said Wednesday.
During opening talks about next year’s agreement with Lawrence Education Association representatives, chief negotiator Frank Harwood said school board members would like flexibility during uncertain fiscal times.
For one, until the Kansas Legislature makes a decision about the state budget for next fiscal year, board members won’t know whether they have to go deeper than the $4.6 million they have already cut for next school year.
Board members have at least asked for teacher pay cuts to be discussed as part of the year’s contract talks, although the idea hasn’t gained traction with all board members. As part of the $4.6 million in cuts made March 9, board members cut administrative salaries about 2 percent to save $100,000.
Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer, said Wednesday that if the Legislature requires another $200 million cut across the board to K-12 education, Lawrence board members would have to find a way to cut an additional $4 million.
“If that were the case, employee salaries are one of the things that would have to be talked about, but we’re hoping that that doesn’t come to that,” he said.
Lois Orth-Lopes, the LEA’s negotiations chairwoman, said the district’s certified employees effectively took a cut under last year’s contract with the change in health insurance benefits.
“I think it’s just safe to say that we’re going to look at the best possible outcome that we can have given the current situation,” said Orth-Lopes, who teaches at Cordley School.
Contract negotiations usually last for several months. The two sides typically reach an agreement on the district’s salary schedule, which determines teachers’ pay based on experience in the district and how many degrees they have. Last year the district agreed to add $523,000 overall to the salary scale.
This year, the district has approximately 950 certified employees, mostly classroom teachers but also counselors, social workers and other certified positions. However, the $4.6 million in cuts already passed will eliminate some teaching positions, and administrators are still evaluating just how many jobs it will cost. Retirements will offset some of the cuts but not all, administrators have said.
The next negotiating session will be April 28 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.