Teachers in the Lawrence school district are asking for raises of $1,500 each for the next school year.
Negotiators for the Lawrence Education Association made the formal request Wednesday evening at district headquarters, as negotiations continued with administrators for a new work agreement.
The teachers say the raises — total estimated cost: $1.389 million — would help recruit new teachers, retain experienced educators and otherwise begin to fairly compensate hundreds of union members who have gone several years without pay raises while enduring higher expenses and reduced benefits.
“We think this is more than reasonable, given the district’s budget,” said Chris Cobb, a negotiator who teaches math at South Junior High School, after the evening’s 42-minute session. “They have more than enough money to properly compensate us.”
Administrators don’t quite see it that way. The district is working to fill an expected $3 million budget hole for the coming school year, a drain caused by reduced revenues from the state.
Just last week, administrators advised the board that they could save $2.5 million next year by dipping into contingency funds, reclaiming a diploma-completion program, reducing spending on nonwage expenses and making other changes.
By closing Wakarusa Valley School, they expect to save nearly $500,000 more.
“The board is straining to be fiscally responsible is a very difficult time,” said Frank Harwood, the district’s lead negotiator and chief operations officer. “Using all our resources on raises in one year is not fiscally responsible.”
The raises, as proposed, would boost salaries of the district’s 926 licensed educators by $1,500 each. The raise would be equal to 4.3 percent for an entry-level teacher who earns $34,780; the raise would be about 2.5 percent for a teacher earning $58,830, with at least 13 years of service and a doctorate.
Cobb and his fellow negotiators maintain that the district has $6.8 million in a contingency fund, plus another $7.3 million in a special reserve fund — money that could help boost the pay of all teachers, including the more than 450 who have seen their salaries climb just $250 total during the past five years.
“I don’t buy it a lick,” Cobb said. “They clearly have enough money to do this. It’s whether the district chooses to make this a priority.”