Archive for Friday, July 22, 2011

Negotiations lead toward teacher pay raises; other details unsettled

July 22, 2011


Teachers in the Lawrence school district would get pay raises for the coming school year, but the bulk of the money wouldn’t last any longer.

While negotiators for the Lawrence school district and its teachers union, the Lawrence Education Association, remain at odds over an overall master agreement for teachers during the coming year, the two sides did tentatively agree Thursday to two financial changes that would be included in such an agreement:

• All licensed educators would get a one-time payment of $1,000 — payable either Dec. 21 or 22, making it similar to what other employers might consider a holiday bonus.

• All licensed educators — there are 926 now — also would get $250 added to their annual base salaries, something that would remain with teachers as they enter negotiations in coming years.

For an entry-level teacher, who now earns $34,780, the raise for next year would be equal to 3.6 percent. For a teacher with a doctorate and more than 13 years in the district — earning $58,830, the highest on the salary scale — the raise would be equivalent to 2.1 percent.

“We are pleased with the numbers of dollars they’re putting on the table,” said David Reber, the union’s lead negotiator.

The tentative agreements came after a negotiating session that lasted for more than five hours at district headquarters, with contentious exchanges over other topics that still remain unsettled: the amount of money that should be dedicated to fringe benefits, and ongoing work to change the way teachers are evaluated for the work they do.

In terms of compensation, however, both sides agreed on the bumps in pay.

“Teachers need to be rewarded for what they do,” said Mark Bradford, president of the Lawrence school board.

“I think that’s great,” said Reber, a biology teacher at Free State High School.

Mediate or wait

The raises would not take effect until and unless a new master agreement is endorsed by both negotiating teams and then approved by their respective sides. Thursday’s session ended with administration negotiators urging the union either to accept the overall deal, or to declare an impasse and opt for assistance from a federal mediator.

“You deserve all that we can do, and we’re at it,” board member Bob Byers told union negotiators across the table. “There’s nothing else we can do.”

Union leaders declined to commit either way, saying instead that they would consult with their membership and report back early next week.

“We don’t believe there’s no more room (for the board) to move,” Reber said.

The board previously had been reluctant to offer additional money for teachers, outside of allowing educators who had earned extra degrees or had taken additional coursework to qualify for additional pay. That component previously had secured support from both sides, and would allow such qualifying teachers to earn additional salary ranging from $650 to $2,300 next year.

Board members say they could offer additional salary only because the district must spend at least $3.1 million in contingency funds during the coming 12 months, draining a savings account that had been expected to help buffer the district against state budget cuts during the next four years.

The district’s extended-spending plan has become accelerated to comply with state law.

“That was the key to all of this,” Bradford said.

No agreement yet

Union negotiators for weeks have been calling for the district to tap into its savings accounts to bolster teacher compensation. Now that the district is being forced to spend some of the money, union negotiators are pleased to be offered some of it.

In all, the additional compensation would be expected to cost the district $1.28 million in 2011-12.

“I think that’s great,” Reber said.

Any overall agreement won’t become official until and unless it wins approval from the two sides: members of the Lawrence Education Association, whose salaries and working conditions are governed by the agreement; and members of the school board, who finance the agreement and oversee administrators who see that its provisions are followed.

Still to be determined would be raises for employees not covered by the master agreement: administrators, maintenance employees and others working in offices and other operations districtwide.

While details about potential pay raises for such employees have yet to be proposed or even discussed by board members, Bradford figures the district should be able to afford a package that boosts pay for everyone, even if it’s only for one year.

“We need to do something,” Bradford said.


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