The Lawrence school district and the local teachers union have agreed to continue meeting through June in hopes of hammering out a new contract as they prepare for major changes in the 2013-14 school year.
But they still are waiting for the Kansas Legislature to finalize a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 so they can get down to discussing salaries.
"Once they finish up, I think we'll have a pretty good picture as to what our financial picture will be next year, and then we can present some type of salary proposal," said assistant superintendent Kyle Hayden, who leads the district's negotiating team.
Lawmakers began their wrap-up session on Wednesday last week, but still have not agreed on a budget, roughly half of which is funding for public schools.
Meanwhile, district and union officials say they talks on a new teacher evaluation system are going smoothly, unlike in many other districts around the country where that has been the source of major controversy because of state and federal requirements to include student growth and achievement as a significant part of a teacher's performance rating.
Over the course of the next year, all school districts in Kansas will have to adopt new evaluation systems that include student performance as a significant part of a teacher's overall rating. That's a requirement under the state's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which the U.S. Department of Education approved on a provisional basis last summer.
"Overall, I think everybody involved agrees this new system is a dramatic improvement over the way things have been done, or to a large extent not done," said David Reber, spokesman for the Lawrence Education Association and a science teacher at Free State High School.
The Kansas State Department of Education is developing a model evaluation system called the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol, or KEEP, that districts can use to comply. But the Lawrence school district has decided to develop its own evaluation program, and a committee made up of both teachers and administrators has been working on that project for about two years.
The district plans to start phasing in that system with newly hired teachers in 2013-14, and then gradually expand it to include more veteran and tenured teachers as they come up for evaluations.
Meanwhile, both Reber and Hayden said the two sides have reached a conceptual agreement on health insurance benefits for next year.
Hayden said the district has offered to continue providing full individual coverage for teachers, absorbing a roughly 7 percent increase in premiums that will cost the district about $491,000 next year to cover the district's 1,680 full time equivalent employees.
Employees will continue paying the full cost of covering additional family members.
At the May 20 meeting, Hayden said he hopes all of the contract issues will be on the table, and the two teams will start a process called "packaging," where they respond to each of the other team's offers and make their own counter-offers.
They plan to continue meeting each Tuesday through June in hopes of finalizing an agreement before July 1.