Teachers in the Lawrence school district are moving closer to getting pay raises for the coming school year, as they continue to seek improvements in health-insurance coverage or compensation.
Negotiators for the Lawrence school district and the teachers’ union, the Lawrence Education Association, plan to meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to continue work on a master agreement for the 2011-12 school year.
The two sides already have reached tentative settlements on a number of monetary and operational issues, including the biggest one of all: combined pay raises of $1,250 for each of the district’s 926 licensed educators. Educators would get $250 added to their base salaries, then another $1,000 one-time payment just before Christmas.
“People feel pretty good about the progress being made,” said Rick Ingram, after he and fellow board members met behind closed doors Monday night to discuss ongoing negotiations.
Two topics remain points of contention, and remain to be settled: fringe benefits and teacher evaluations.
“We’re still negotiating,” said Deena Burnett, the union’s president.
Both sides have clashed over the cost of fringe benefits, particularly health insurance. The district now pays $378.16 each month per covered employee, the value of one month’s premium for an individual; the union originally wanted that increased to $500, then lowered it to $450.
The district originally wanted to pay only $333.68, the cost of the same coverage for the coming year, then revised the offer to go back to $378.16. Employees would get to pocket the difference — equivalent to $44.48 per month — in the form of a one-time payment.
The union sees room to compromise: The district can stick to its current payment of $378.16, but employees should be able to use the difference — the $44.48 per month — either to purchase improved coverage or reduce the price of having family coverage, said David Reber, the district’s lead negotiator.
That way employees could be using the savings for health, Reber said, and therefore avoid having to pay taxes on the money.
“There are lots of options for where that money could go,” Reber said.
Teacher evaluations also remain a contested topic, although Reber sees room for compromise there, too.
For the past two years, a joint committee of teachers and administrators has been working on revising the district’s methods for evaluating teacher performance, so that the process includes more self-evaluation by teachers. The district has pushed for the process to continue, while the union has argued that it should stop — unless the district would agree to change the way it decides which teachers get let go in the event of layoffs, known as a “reduction in force,” or RIF.
The union could back off its push against the RIF process, at least for now, provided that the district understands that the union still opposes it and intends to bring it back up again next year, Reber said.
Thursday’s meeting will give both sides a chance to compare notes, and potentially reach a tentative agreement.
“We’re getting really close,” Reber said.