Bottom line from the first day of negotiations between Lawrence school district administrators and teachers regarding next year’s teacher contract: Teachers want more money, and administrators aren’t offering any.
“We want all the numbers to get bigger,” said David Reber, a biology teacher at Free State High School and lead negotiator for the Lawrence Education Association, after Wednesday’s initial negotiations meeting at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
He’s referring to the salary schedule for teachers, which includes 156 cells, or steps, that outline the amount of money a teacher earns based on education and years of service. A entry-level teacher with a bachelor’s degree, for example, makes $37,780, while a teacher with a doctorate and at least 13 years of service makes $58,830.
Teachers want the entry-level cells to be increased, saying that would help the district improve its ability to attract quality new teachers. And the union also wants to boost the “Mx” step on the salary schedule, so that teachers who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for raises actually could see their wages increase.
Reber declined to discuss exactly how much additional money, overall, teachers want to see pumped to the mix. But the union plans to push for something when it lands on the negotiations agenda April 6.
“If we don’t add more money, nearly 50 percent of the teachers in the district won’t see any increase in salary,” he said.
Increasing money for wages would mean making cuts somewhere, said Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer and lead negotiator for the district. Administrators already anticipate a budget that would call for spending $3 million less next year because of declines in state revenue.
Such decisions will be left to members of the Lawrence school board.
“They don’t have any choice about the $3 million” in cuts, Harwood said, after the meeting. “To have more dollars available, they would have to cut more.”
Board members already are scheduled to discuss closing at least one elementary school next year: Wakarusa Valley, the building identified by a task force appointed to create a vision for the district’s elementary schools while acknowledging ongoing financial restraints.
Chris Cobb, a math teacher at South Junior High School and member of the union’s negotiating team, noted that the district maintained a “stated goal” for recruiting and retaining quality teachers.
“If you don’t have an adequate starting salary, you’re not going to recruit quality teachers,” Cobb said. “And if you don’t have an adequate max salary, you will lose longtime quality teachers.”
Negotiating teams are scheduled to meet again March 30, to discuss potential changes to teacher evaluations. Salary issues are set for April 6.