Negotiators representing more than 900 educators in the Lawrence school district are pushing back against their administrative bosses, arguing that teachers and other licensed personnel deserve larger raises and better benefits than they’ve been offered.
And the Lawrence Education Association representatives brought numbers to back them up, as they work to form a master agreement to determine compensation and working conditions for educators for 2011-12.
Union negotiators on Thursday reiterated their stance that the district should boost wages for licensed educators by $1,500 a year, and that the boost should remain in place as years go by.
District negotiators last week had offered to boost salaries by $500, in a one-time payment that would come in December but not remain on the books for future years.
David Reber, the union’s lead negotiator, dismissed the district’s offer as unfair and offered up justification: According to data compiled by the Kansas National Education Association, using numbers reported by the Kansas State Department of Education, the “total compensation package” enjoyed by different employee groups in the district ranks:
• 75th statewide for teachers, averaging $51,089.
• 47th for administrators, averaging $87,574.
• 20th for the superintendent, averaging $158,269.
Teachers understand, he said, that when times are tough, the district must be responsible with its expenditures.
“But it seems like what money there is ought to go around equitably,” Reber said. “It doesn’t seem equitable.”
Reber also distributed charts outlining what each member of the union’s negotiating team earns in Lawrence, and would be earning in other districts within commuting distance:
• Reber, a Free State High School biology teacher, earns $49,830 in Lawrence, while he could make $59,800 in Kansas City, Kan.
• Deena Burnett, a language arts teacher at West Middle School, makes $46,055 in Lawrence, but could be earning $54,657 in Blue Valley.
• Chris Cobb, a math teacher at South Middle School, makes $45,430 in Lawrence, but would be earning $62,547 in Olathe.
Frank Harwood, the district’s lead negotiator and chief operations officer, was quick to point out that Lawrence teachers typically earn more money faster in Lawrence — the salary scale includes fewer spaces before “topping out” based on experience — than elsewhere.
“If you get to a higher salary sooner, and earn that for 15 years, your career salary would be similar,” said Harwood, who noted that union members had sought the current salary structure five years ago.
Cobb — who, like nearly half of all licensed educators in the Lawrence district, has hit the top of his pay scale based on experience — chuckled at the thought, noting that the state’s retirement system bases retirement benefits on the wages earned during an employee’s last three years.
“I would much rather have my retirement benefits based on $66,000, rather than $48,000,” he said, using general numbers.
The union also forwarded its desire to have the district boost its spending on health insurance by 32 percent.
Negotiations are scheduled to continue next week.