Congratulations, to Lawrence school board and teacher negotiators for reaching a reasonable and relatively quick agreement on teacher salaries for the coming year.
Reduced state funding that forced the district to cut $4.3 million from its budget and not renew contracts for more than 30 teachers provided a somber backdrop for the negotiations. “We all realized money is very tight,” said Frank Harwood, the board’s chief negotiator.
District officials offered what they thought they could: money to cover higher health care costs but no raises. The teachers’ negotiators were able to gain approval for a limited number of raises for new teachers and teachers who had completed graduate hours. Additional personal leave days also are included in the package that still must be approved by the school board and the teachers.
It hasn’t been a happy financial year for any public school district in Kansas. State budget cuts have put severe strain on school districts and they have little choice but to make difficult decisions to balance their own budgets.
To their credit, negotiators for the Lawrence teachers understood that the school district was severely limited in how much additional money it could spend on salaries without forcing cuts in other areas or perhaps even laying off more professional staff. Their willingness to consider the district’s financial situation and take a reasonable approach to salary increases this year should buy them some good will with school board members and district administrators in future years when, hopefully, money will not be as tight.
It also might serve as an example for other negotiators, such as those currently working on contract agreements for the Lawrence police and firefighters. Taxpayers appreciate the valuable services provided by teachers and emergency personnel, but in the current economy, there are limits to how much more money can be budgeted for salaries. Everyone wishes that wasn’t the case, but it is the reality this year.
Teachers, firefighters and police officers should realize they aren’t the only employees being asked to maintain or even increase their workloads without a raise this year. School negotiators did a good job of finding a reasonable compromise this year. Hopefully, city negotiators will do the same.