Did the Lawrence school district think its teachers weren’t paying attention when the school board voted on April 22 to spend about $2 million to add teachers and programs?
Just two weeks later, the district’s negotiator told teachers that the district couldn’t possibly discuss teacher compensation packages until it knew how much state funding it would receive this year.
What’s wrong with this picture? School board members didn’t think it was necessary to see what the state funding picture would be before committing to large budget increases for staff and programs, including the extension of full-day kindergarten and the addition of 21 teachers to reduce class sizes. But now they are telling teacher negotiators they have to wait for state funding decisions before considering possible teacher raises.
The fact that board members were willing to use money the district had accumulated in its cash reserves on additional programs and teachers more or less confirms the contention of the Lawrence Education Association negotiators that the district has money to spend on increased teacher salaries. Many funds held by school districts are restricted for specific uses, but it seems that at least some of the money being directed to hiring 21 new teachers could be directed to salary increases, if that were the board’s priority.
The overall funding picture for schools in Kansas is uncertain and relatively bleak. In fact, Superintendent Rick Doll warned board members that current state funding levels would make it impossible to sustain the addition of programs and teachers for more than two or three years.
Lowering class sizes and extending full-day kindergarten to the entire district certainly are positive moves. Perhaps using some of the district’s savings to kick-start those programs now will make them easier to sustain financially later on.
It also is vital that the district have a strong corps of teachers who are paid well enough to want to stay in their jobs. If the district doesn’t feel it can commit to a long-term salary increase, local teachers already have suggested the idea of one-time bonuses that wouldn’t add to the salary base.
Even under the best circumstances, the district probably can’t afford to spend $3 million to fully fund the teachers’ initial salary request. Nonetheless, as the district allocates funds for various program and staff changes, it needs to make sure that teacher salaries are a continuing priority.