A few education-oriented items from around the area:
Teachers want more pay. Administrators want to adjust fringe benefits.
Both sides will sit down Wednesday night at Lawrence school district headquarters, to start negotiating a master agreement for the 2011-2012 school year that covers salaries, benefits, training, working conditions, schedules and other matters for the district’s 900 licensed personnel.
The first negotiating session starts at 5 p.m. in the board meeting room at 110 McDonald Drive.
Both sides already have outlined the areas they’re interested in negotiating during the coming weeks.
Leaders of the Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers and other licensed personnel, notified the district in late January of their organization’s desire to talk money.
“Because of the high priority the association places on the salary issue, we suggest representatives of the BOE [school board] and association meet in early February to frame this issue and begin discussions that will yield compensation levels that match this district’s commitment to excellence in education,” said the leaders, Valerie Johnson-Powell, LEA president; and David Reber, the association’s negotiations chairman.
The district, meanwhile, notified teachers that it would be interested in discussing fringe benefits, professional development and evaluation issues.
The fringe benefits section of the agreement covers items such as health insurance coverage for licensed employees, and the district wants to “consider amendments to the fringe benefits provisions, including changes in the board contribution.”
As for professional development, the district wants to consider amending rules for collaboration. Suggested changes regarding evaluations would involve language recommended by a subcommittee of teachers and administrators, which has been studying the issue for the past two years.
Late last year, administrators and teachers finished negotiations related to the district’s upcoming reconfiguration of schools. Under the changes, nearly half of teachers in the district were slated to get a pay increase beginning this month, ranging from a total of $250 to $700 for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year.
Valerie Johnson-Powell, president of the Lawrence Education Association, recently offered a concrete description of how much capacity is set to be available next year in the district’s elementary schools.
Johnson-Powell, a teacher, reminded her colleagues on the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force that the reconfiguration of schools that takes effect next year — specifically, to have sixth-graders attend middle school — will move 32 classes out of the district elementaries.
That would leave 32 classrooms vacant, she said, unless other changes were made.
“To keep the status quo, you could basically close a three-section school and a two-section school and basically be at the same level of capacity,” Johnson-Powell said Tuesday, when I called her to discuss recommendations of the task force.
And in case anybody’s wondering: Generally, a three-section school is a building that has three classrooms for each grade level, such as Sunflower School; a two-section school has two classrooms for each grade level, such as Broken Arrow.
The task force recommended closing Wakarusa Valley. The school board plans to discuss the issue March 14, then conduct a formal public hearing March 28.
“Our proposal is actually very conservative, because we’re proposing (to close) one,” Johnson-Powell said, noting that there “was no right answer” about which school to recommend for closure.
Her worry: If the district doesn’t close a school, there will be pressure to increase class sizes even more for next year.
“I understand that everybody is tied to their building, but I am worried that if we raise the (teacher-student) ratio again, more harm will happen to the children,” she said.
The task force also supports seeking a bond issue that would address capital needs for elementary schools, and to pursue consolidating a list of six schools down to either four or three schools within three to five years. Schools suggested for consolidation consideration are Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
Any talk of creating magnet schools, or charter schools, or any other form of “choice” schools in the Lawrence school district will just have to wait.
And only then if board members want to bring it up.
Monday night, board members heard a report from Rick Doll, district superintendent, outlining various options and pros and cons in considering school “choice.” The report came at the request of Rich Minder, board president, who previously has discussed prospects for a “dual-language immersion” school in the district, possibly in the current home of New York School if and when the school might be consolidated into a new building during the next three to five years.
But the prospect of pursuing such school choice options — nearly a month before board elections, and four months before three or possibly four new board members will take office — failed to win support from Minder’s colleagues.
Especially with the district staring at a need to make an estimated $3 million or more in cuts to next year’s budget.
“It does take a little bit more,” Marlene Merrill, the lone incumbent board member seeking re-election, said of the likely financial needs for starting new programs, much less schools. “At this point in time, we don’t have that little bit more to put into it.”
Longtime board member Mary Loveland, who will leave the board in July, said that if an idea for a magnet, themed or charter schools was good enough for some students, such options should be made available to all students in every school.
“All kids should be exposed to everything,” she said.
Minder said that such a program would allow the district to pursue innovation that could make the entire district better.
Doll, for his part, followed up on a suggestion from board member Scott Morgan that the issue could be discussed by board members during their next annual goals-setting session. That would be possible after new board members are seated in July.
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