Following new teachers’ union proposal, Lawrence school district doesn’t budge on 1.8% increase for raises
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Lawrence school district representatives said they would go no higher than their original proposal for teacher raises, shutting down a proposal from the teachers’ union for a 2.65% funding increase.
The Lawrence Education Association made the proposal to the district’s negotiation team, which includes two Lawrence school board members, as part of a meeting Monday at district offices. The LEA proposal, which was a counter proposal to the district’s first and only salary proposal, called for $1.34 million for raises, which would have funded a $1,200 increase to the base teacher salary of $41,758 per year and a 2.65% increase to the overall salary pool.
The district’s initial proposal amounted to a less than a 2% funding increase, and after meeting briefly to discus the LEA’s proposal, school board member Paula Smith told LEA representatives that unfortunately, the district was not able to increase that.
“We are just going to have to stay with that at this time, so we’re not offering anything more,” Smith said. “It’s just what we have at the moment.”
The school board recently made $6.4 million in budget cuts, some related to declining enrollment and others to free up funding for staff raises. Union representatives acknowledged the district’s budget situation, but expressed concern about the impact on teachers.
LEA Negotiations Co-Chair Josh Spradlin said that rising costs have been hitting teachers hard, and he worried that there could be significant opposition when LEA takes the district’s proposal to its members for potential ratification.
“One of the things that we really looked at was how inflation and how cost of living going up over the last year and half, two years, during this pandemic, the effect that it’s having on people,” Spradlin said. “There’s two ways to look at it: there’s the financial impact, there’s also the mental health aspect of it.”
Smith said if there was anything else she could take back to the board for discussion, to let her know. Spradlin said the union would have to further discuss that, as there are various things that have piled up over the last few years.
The district has been negotiating with the LEA since September. In early discussions, the union discussed an increase of $4.6 million over the next two years, with about half of that amount proposed for the upcoming year, representing an approximately 4% increase. Spradlin previously said the union’s salary proposal aimed to keep a competitive wage with surrounding districts and keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living.
The district’s proposal calls for $862,616 for teacher raises for next school year, which includes $65,742 in “employer costs,” and represents a 1.8% increase to the overall certified salary pool. The district initially made the proposal June 2.
Megan Epperson, another representative for the LEA negotiating team, suggested Monday that cost savings from the district hiring less experienced teachers to replace retiring or resigning teachers with more experience could have been a potential source for additional funding for raises. The district and LEA have been participating in interest-based bargaining — a cooperative method of contract negotiation — and while Epperson also acknowledged the district’s budget challenges, she expressed frustration that the district did not move from its original proposal.
“We started this conversation in September and had a finalization of our first ask in December,” Epperson said. “The point was to be able to start that negotiating process then, so to have a counter (proposal) that is a final offer at the beginning of June, almost six months later, kind of gets away from what I think we were trying to do with that.”
School board member Shannon Kimball, who was sitting in for board member Kelly Jones on the district’s negotiating team, said the district will continue to be in a difficult budget situation, and that she was committed to having those conversations earlier. Kimball added that she expected the same difficult conversations about cutting positions and closing school buildings as part of budget discussions for the 2023-2024 school year.
“All the things that nobody really wants to do, but the reality is in order to prioritize the needs of our employees, we’re going to have to have those conversations,” Kimball said.
Under the union’s current salary schedule, someone with a bachelor’s degree receives a base salary of $41,758 per year, someone with a master’s degree a base salary of $44,408 per year, and someone with a doctorate a base salary of $51,008 per year. The salary schedule includes incremental pay levels between those three levels of education, based on semester hours earned toward a higher degree, as well as pay increases for additional years of experience.
The district’s June 2 proposal also included a $55,897 funding increase for administrators, representing a 1% increase to the salary pool. 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. The district and the union representing classified staff agreed on the district’s proposal for a 4.95% increase in funding for that salary pool on June 1, falling far short of the union’s proposal to bring all pay to at least $15 per hour.
The next contract negotiation meeting between the district and LEA is scheduled for July 5. Once LEA and district representations reach an agreement, the school board and LEA membership must vote to approve the proposed contract.