Editorial: Pay teachers fairly for work

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The Lawrence school district should willingly pay teachers a professional rate for parent-teacher conferences, committee meetings and open houses.

Perhaps by taking that step, the school district can accelerate contract negotiations with the Lawrence Education Association.

The existing agreement between the district and the LEA expired on July 1. Now, the teachers union is urging its members not to work hours outside of the school day.

David Reber, chief union negotiator for LEA, has told teachers to work their contract. What that means is not to put in any “volunteer hours” until the contract negotiations are complete. That means teachers will not volunteer to attend school open houses and will not participate in professional activities such as after-school committee meetings or parent-teacher conferences.

Under state law, teachers cannot strike, but the LEA hopes that by not putting in volunteer hours, teachers can drum up support for higher raises than the district wants to give.

Indeed, the stance is already having an impact; a planned open house for Liberty Memorial Central Middle School had to be scuttled on Sept. 6 after teachers at the school collectively agreed not to attend. Lawrence school board president Jessica Beeson said a number of parents gathered outside the school in support of the teachers during the open house time.

What doesn’t make sense is why teachers aren’t paid for their professional work after hours. District teachers are paid two rates for work they do outside the duty day. They are paid a professional rate of $21 an hour for attending evening parent-teacher conferences and committee meetings on topics such as building improvements and equity issues, and for other staff meetings that take place after the normal work day. And they are paid extra duty pay of $13 an hour for a host of activities they agree to take on, such as chaperoning dances or selling tickets at performances.

But the higher rate isn’t guaranteed for evening parent-teacher conferences and committee meetings. Rather, approval is up to the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. Further, the school district regards open houses as “voluntary” and teachers aren’t compensated. That’s absurd. What function does an open house serve if teachers aren’t available?

“The problem with this language is that requests for payment can be and are regularly denied,” Reber said. “The district just assumes people will work for free anyway.”

Pay for open houses and conferences isn’t the central issue of the negotiations. Base pay is. The union has asked for a $2,200 increase to the base salary paid to new teachers. That increase would be reflected in the step increases teachers receive for years of service and higher levels of education. The district has countered with a base increase offer of $500. Fairness is probably somewhere in between.

Everyone is well aware of the work teachers put in outside of class — grading assignments, reading papers, preparing lectures, etc. — for which they already are not compensated. They shouldn’t have to fight to be paid appropriately for professional work at school events outside of the school day.

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