Teachers and their bosses reached a tentative agreement Thursday evening on a work contract for the coming school year, one that would include a $1,250 raise for each and every licensed educator in the district.
Now all teachers need to do is find enough folks to cast ballots to approve it.
“I don’t think the voting ‘yes’ will be a problem,” said a smiling David Reber, a biology teacher and Free State High School and lead negotiator for the Lawrence Education Association. “But getting enough people to vote might be.”
The LEA, the bargaining unit for the district’s 926 licensed educators, needs at least half of those educators to cast ballots, and then for the majority of those voters to vote “yes.” Union leaders aim to have the contract ratified by Aug. 5 so that members of the Lawrence school board could approve it Aug. 8.
If all goes according to plan, such educators — teachers, counselors, librarians, speech therapists, nurses and other licensed professionals — would start seeing a share of their $250 annual raises reflected on their regular paychecks beginning in September. Teachers would receive the remaining $1,000 in the form of a one-time, lump-sum payment either Dec. 21 or 22.
“Pretty nice Christmas bonus,” said Laurie Folson, a communications teacher at Free State who was among about 50 educators to attend Thursday’s final negotiating session at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. “It recognizes what the teachers in the district have been asked to do throughout the year. Before this, I don’t know that we feel we had been recognized.”
Such educators started the 2010-11 academic year with fewer teachers, and then spent the year planning for a switch from junior highs to middle schools, and preparing to go from three- to four-year high schools.
All while continuing to help students meet increasing assessment standards and post improved academic success.
Which they did, said Bob Byers, one of two board members on the district negotiating team.
“Our teachers do an excellent job,” Byers said. “We can’t give them what they deserve, but we can give them as much as we can.”
In total, the additional compensation for teachers — through salary increases, plus bumps for “extra duty” pay and for earning additional degrees or college credit — would amount to $1.39 million during the coming year. The total would average out to a 3.32 percent raise for each educator.
The district plans to get the money from a contingency fund, a savings account that must be drained of $3.1 million by June 30 to comply with state law. The fund also is being used to rehire some staffers who had been let go under budget pressures and to reinstate some programs that had been cut.
Board members now will turn their attention toward increasing pay for other district employees not covered by the contract — formally called a “master agreement” — that governs pay and working conditions for licensed educators.
Kyle Hayden, the district’s chief operations officer, said a proposal for compensating administrators and classified staffers likely would be ready for board consideration Aug. 8. During the past year, district administrators had their pay cut by 2 percent, through furloughs, and other nonteaching personnel endured pay cuts as well.
“There are a lot of things to be taken into account,” said Hayden, who joined the district staff earlier this month.
Union officials, meanwhile, aren’t wasting any time getting the contract ratified. They intend to use the district’s emergency phone system to send out a voice message to all licensed educators, urging them to vote on the tentative agreement; the message is likely to go out Monday, although times and sites for voting have yet to be determined.
The contract includes a number of new items, including provisions for district savings on health insurance costs to be funneled back to licensed educators. The money then could be used, on a tax-free basis, to defray the cost of “buying up” on coverage, or to otherwise pay medical expenses.
Negotiators on both sides know they’ll have plenty of additional work to do for next year’s negotiations, but for now they’re happy to have settled their differences.
“I’m pleased with the progress we made,” said Deena Burnett, union president, who will be teaching seventh-grade language arts and social studies this year at West Middle School.