A look at how local teacher salaries compare to area districts; Lawrence is catching up
photo by: Shutterstock Images; Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World Graphic
When it comes to teachers’ salaries, Lawrence is in much the same position it is geographically in regards to Shawnee and Johnson counties: in the middle.
The base annual salary of $40,040 the Lawrence school district pays a first-year teacher new to the profession is more than any district in Shawnee County, but is less than that offered by two of the big three Johnson County school districts of Blue Valley ($40,600), Olathe ($40,006) and Shawnee Mission ($42,136).
The competitive nature of the market for teaching talent is not lost on Lawrence school board members and administrators, who understand the importance of keeping salaries in range of the large Johnson County districts if they don’t want to see the district’s best and brightest teachers moving east for better opportunities.
This awareness played a part in the board’s approval last fall of a 2017-2018 salary schedule that gave every teacher a $2,310 raise and increased the base entry-level salary from $37,750 to $40,040.
“Most definitely, competitiveness is a consideration,” said Lawrence school board president Shannon Kimball. “We want to make sure we can attract and retain quality teachers.”
2017-2018 base teacher salaries of Lawrence and nearby school districts
Baldwin City: $37,500
Shawnee Mission: $42,136
Blue Valley: $40,600
Shawnee Heights: $36,100
— Source: District websites
Laurie Folsom is president of the Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers in negotiations with the district. She said the 2017-2018 salary increase was overdue and was hopeful such momentum would be sustained with the 2018-2019 contract in light of the Kansas Legislature approving new school funding.
“We have experienced in Kansas almost a decade of underfunding of public education,” she said. “The salary schedules have stalled in most districts. We had a significant raise last year, but looking back the six years before, there was only $100 to $200 added to salaries for many of those years.”
Before approval of the 2017-2018 salary schedule, Lawrence teachers moving to one of the large Johnson County districts could expect to earn $250,000 more during the course of their careers, Folsom said. The current salary schedule made inroads in that career deficit in all but the Shawnee Mission school district, which is the gold standard for teacher salaries in the state, she said.
On the other hand, a job in Lawrence could look very attractive to a teacher in the Shawnee County districts of Topeka, Auburn-Washburn, Seaman or Shawnee Heights, which have base salaries ranging from the $35,750 offered at Shawnee Heights to $38,500 for Topeka.
That’s meaningful because the district is constantly in the market for teaching talent. David Cunningham, the district’s executive director of human resources and chief legal counsel, said that in the last three school years, the district had to replace 312 teachers. Two-thirds of the new hires were teachers who left positions from other districts, and the other third were new to the profession.
Of the 312 teachers who left the district’s employment in the past three years, 51 took teaching jobs in other Kansas school districts, Cunningham said. That was second only to the 89 retirements in creating teacher openings.
Cunningham and Folsom said the district benefits and is challenged by being a university community. The University of Kansas provides a pool of talented young teachers, but many move on when they or their spouses complete advanced degrees. District information shows 45 teachers quit their jobs in the past three years either to take jobs in out-of-state school districts or because they moved out of the area.
The school district and LEA started head-to-head negotiations for the 2018-2019 teachers’ contract on June 4. However, talks on the central issue of salaries were deferred until the Kansas Supreme Court issues its ruling on whether the new school finance formula adequately funds K-12 education as the state constitution requires.
When salary discussions start, they will center on the district’s salary schedule. Like those of other districts in the state, the salary schedule provides teachers two ways to earn raises. One way is to remain with the district another year and earn a vertical step raise. The district also rewards professional development by giving teachers raises for earning additional hours of college education and obtaining advanced postgraduate degrees.
Cunningham said the annual raises weren’t automatic and must be approved by the school board each year. That didn’t happen in extremely tight budget years during the recession.
The district uses the salary schedule to gauge the district’s wage competitiveness with surrounding districts for established career teachers, Cunningham said. For example, a Lawrence teacher with 20 years of experience who has completed 10 hours beyond a master’s degree would receive a salary of $55,090. A teacher with the same experience and education would be paid $53,900 in the Topeka school district and $65,761 in Shawnee Mission.
There’s more to teacher recruitment and retention than salaries, Cunningham said. The environments of schools and the district as a whole play large roles. With that in mind, building principals pay heed to how well a candidate will fit into the school when interviewing for teacher openings.
The LEA also is bringing nonsalary issues to the negotiation table this summer, Folsom said. The issue of concern was signaled during the first round of talks June 4 when the LEA asked that the district place art, music and physical education teachers in all elementary schools, a move that would add five teachers to the district payroll at an estimated cost of $250,000.
With more state money expected to be available, the LEA would like to see a reversal of the staff reductions the district undertook in recent years in response to stalled state K-12 spending, Folsom said.
“I think we expect to see an investment in the classroom,” she said. “That may not look like just a salary increase. Because of the efficiencies the district initiated the last few years, teachers have a bigger workload. Having kindergarten class sizes of more than 25 students is ridiculous. We’ve seen that happen the past few years.”
The Lawrence school board discussed staffing priorities in April and May. Last month, it agreed to hire three full-time special education teachers and two middle school behavioral health interventionists. High on its 2018-2019 budget priority list is the hiring of another full-time kindergarten teacher and two first-grade teachers to reduce class sizes.
Kimball said how much more the board can do to lower class sizes and provide additional specialists to support classroom teachers was dependent on the overall agreement negotiated with teachers.
“It’s all going to depend on salary negotiations,” she said. “The more we put into one pot, the shorter the list of additional things we can do. It’s a balance. For me, personally, those things are really important. Class sizes need to be part of our discussion when we revisit our strategic plan this year.”