Lawrence school district and classified staff union agree to $806K for raises, falling far short of $15 per hour goal
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Falling far short of the union’s proposal to bring all pay to at least $15 per hour, representatives for the Lawrence school district and the district’s classified staff union have reached an agreement to increase funding for those workers’ wages by $806,336.
The district’s negotiation team, which includes two Lawrence school board members, made the proposal to union representatives as part of a meeting Wednesday evening at district offices. David Cunningham, an attorney for the Kansas Association of School Boards and a member of the district’s negotiating team, said the $806,336 represents a 4.95% increase to the classified salary pool.
Cunningham recognized that the increase was well below the union’s proposal, but he said considering the district’s budget issues, it represented “a fairly significant commitment” on the part of the Lawrence school board.
“I know it doesn’t come close to touching your $15 an hour that you were hoping for, but that is simply not going to happen — I think I mentioned that the last time we met,” Cunningham said. “The board is committed to continuing to find ways to improve compensation. They understand the goal is 15.”
The school district began contract negotiations on Feb. 21 with the Personnel Association of Lawrence-Communication Workers of America, Local 6400, which represents the district’s paraeducators, custodians, food service workers, office staff and other classified employees. PAL-CWA has proposed that all classified staff make at least $15 per hour, a change that would provide significant pay increases to hundreds of classified staff members.
School board member Kelly Jones, one of the board’s representatives in negotiations, said that out of all of the employee groups, the classified staff group was likely going to receive the highest percentage increase to its salary pool. Though the union ultimately accepted the district’s proposal, union representatives stressed that classified staff members were struggling financially and additional raises were needed.
The board’s proposal states that the $806,336 in additional funding will increase classified base salary from $9.43 per hour to $9.70 per hour, a 2.863% increase. The board’s proposal also funds “column movement,” or advancement on the pay schedule that is equal to a 1% pay increase for those who receive that movement. Cunningham emphasized that the 4.95% increase is the increase for the overall classified salary pool, and that the percentage raise received by individual staff members would vary depending on where they are in the pay schedule.
PAL-CWA President Hannah Allison-Natale said that the union understood the district’s financial situation, and that its members have directly experienced the effects of budget cuts. Allison-Natale also said that classified workers were struggling.
“We have witnessed in our buildings the devastating cuts, and we completely understand,” said Allison-Natale, adding that the union had been doing the math and had a sense of where things were heading. “However, our members are in a dire financial situation.”
PAL-CWA has previously said that there are 400 custodians, food service workers, paraeducators, secretaries and other district classified staff who make less than $15 per hour. Of those 400 workers, about 300 make between $11 and $13 per hour. Allison-Natale said 14 employees make less than $11 per hour.
In a counter-proposal, PAL-CWA proposed that the district instead provide a $1.5 million increase to the salary pool, which Allison-Natale said would make good on a commitment the board made during interest-based bargaining last year — a cooperative method of contract negotiation — to get staff closer to a living wage. The union also proposed that district and union representatives form a committee to create a new pay matrix for classified staff.
Following a caucus, Jones said the district would not be increasing funding beyond its current proposal. Jones said the district agreed the pay matrix needed to be reevaluated, but that the district did not think a new matrix could be created in time for the upcoming school year. Following additional discussion and caucus, including the potential of limited changes to the current matrix, Allison-Natale said the union would agree to the district’s proposed $806,336 increase and the district’s proposal that the new matrix be for the 2023-2024 school year.
The school board recently approved $6.4 million in budget cuts, including some reductions meant to free up funding for raises for both certified and classified staff. Specifically, the district has estimated that $3.62 million to $4.27 million is needed to address a budget shortfall, due mostly to enrollment declines, and the remaining funding can be used to help fund staff raises. The district has previously estimated that it would cost $560,000 for each 1% raise to certified staff and $182,000 for each 1% raise to classified staff, and that PAL-CWA’s initial wage proposal would require millions of dollars more in funding.
The board has previously met in executive session to discuss contract negotiations with staff unions, with the most recent executive session taking place last week. In addition to PAL-CWA, the district has been negotiating with the union for certified staff, the Lawrence Education Association. LEA Negotiations Co-Chair Josh Spradlin previously told the Journal-World that in early discussions, the union discussed an increase of $4.6 million over the next two years, and the union anticipates the district’s wage offer will come at its bargaining session on Thursday.
The school board and union membership will have to vote to ratify the proposed agreement.