Lawrence school district offers to boost some teachers’ salaries

The Lawrence school district is willing to boost salaries for teachers who take additional classes and earn additional degrees but isn’t prepared to lift all teachers’ salaries beyond a $500 across-the-board raise proposed in recent weeks.

At least not yet.

Thursday night, negotiators for the district offered to grant teachers “horizontal movement” on the district’s salary schedule, as part of ongoing negotiations for a master agreement that would govern teacher compensation and working conditions for the coming school year.

If enacted today, 39 teachers would qualify for additional pay by virtue of taking extra classes and completing additional points through professional development. District administrators estimate that such movement on the scale would cost the district another $125,000 to $150,000 for the coming year.

The offer is “moving in the right direction,” said David Reber, a teacher who is lead negotiator for the Lawrence Education Association, the union representing more than 900 licensed educators in the district.

“But it doesn’t really affect a lot of people,” Reber said.

The district didn’t budge on its offer to give all such educators another $500 for next year, a one-time payment that would not carry over into the following year. The union has stood by its contention that all educators should get another $1,500 a year, and that the raise should remain on the books for years to come.

Both sides also continued to disagree on fringe benefits. The district wants educators to keep the same health insurance coverage for the coming year, expected to cost the district about $44 less to provide for each teacher.

Administrators maintain that the reduced spending on health insurance would save taxpayers money, while union negotiators argue that the district should spend the $44 in “savings.”

“That’s not the board’s money,” Reber said, noting that any district proposal that dipped below the current contributions would be a “deal breaker.”

“That’s not the administration’s money,” he said. “That’s our money.”

Union negotiators also reiterated their contention that the district should boost teacher compensation by spending money in contingency funds. Reber noted that the district has more than $7 million that should be available for teachers’ fringe benefits, including insurance.

“We still have a long way to go,” Reber said.

Negotiators on both sides agreed to meet once more before July 11, when the Lawrence school board will have a new majority: Mary Loveland, Marlene Merrill, Rich Minder and Scott Morgan are departing, while four new members elected in April — Rick Ingram, Shannon Kimball, Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore — will join the board.