Lawrence school board has agreed to $3M to increase teacher salaries; teachers union proposing another $500,000

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Representatives of the Lawrence Education Association and the Lawrence school district meet for contract negotiations on June 1, 2023.

With savings from recent district budget cuts and increases in state funding in play, the Lawrence school board has agreed to a proposal that would provide about $3 million to increase teacher pay — amounting to an average raise of about $3,000. However, that amount could potentially increase, as the teachers union has proposed another $500,000 be added to that amount.

The school board came to agreement on the salary proposal during a closed executive session at a special meeting Wednesday evening, a development that was relayed to and discussed with representatives of the district’s teachers union during a contract negotiations meeting Thursday evening. Representatives for the union, the Lawrence Education Association, ended up requesting that the additional $500,000 be considered because of a discrepancy regarding the proposal, and the board will discuss that request at an upcoming meeting.

Board member Kelly Jones, one of the board’s representatives in contract negotiations, told union representatives Thursday that she understood why they were requesting that the board discuss the additional $500,000, but she didn’t know if there would be enough support on the board for the addition.

“The amount that we’re able to give right now, since I’ve been on the board, is really unheard of,” Jones said. “And so, I definitely want to honor the request if you all want us to go back and look at additional dollars allocated, and I can see why as a (bargaining) unit you might ask for that.”

As the Journal-World reported in May, union and district representatives came to a consensus on a proposal to revamp the pay structure for teachers and provide about $3 million in pay increases. If ultimately finalized, the proposed new salary schedule would increase the earning potential for the district’s most experienced teachers, as well as address other problematic areas of the current salary schedule.

The discrepancy discussed Thursday had to do with whether a $270,000 proposal to provide stipends to special education teachers was part of the salary package or not — union representatives said their understanding was that it was separate — and whether that meant there were additional dollars available for raises. Part of the calculus is also that, following disappointment in the amount allocated for teacher raises after multimillion-dollar budget cuts last year, union representatives have called for the approximately $3.25 million the district will save by cutting 50 secondary teachers ahead of next school year to go exclusively toward teacher raises.

Cynde Frick, the district’s executive director of finance, said the district estimates the cost of the proposals, including the $270,000 for the stipends, was $3.2 million. Frick said the district’s calculation was also different from the union’s calculation because it did not include employer costs (such as costs for employee benefits).

Also part of the context for the conversation was that the district is set to see an increase in state funding. Frick said that the district anticipates receiving an additional $4 million from the court-imposed cost-of-living adjustments to state funding for public education.

The union’s ask for an additional $500,000 is tied to a request for the district to fund another “catch-up step” in the salary schedule for teachers who have previously missed out on a raise for additional years of service due to the district’s funding challenges. Because the district hasn’t always fully funded the current salary schedule, there are teachers whose pay lags behind the schedule. Multiple union representatives spoke to the effect that has on teacher morale and retention.

Marcia Riggins, a teacher in the district’s virtual school, said with three years of budget cuts, school closures and staff reductions, the district needs to work to change the narrative. She said though she loves her job, it is painful for her to stay in the district knowing her pay is behind that of some of her colleagues and that the better financial decision would be for her to go elsewhere. She said the way to show teachers they are appreciated is on their paycheck.

“A former administrator once said, ‘Show me your budget and I’ll show you what’s important,'” Riggins said. “So, when you look at our raises and our impact over the past few years, it doesn’t feel like we’re important.”

Last year, the district made $6.4 million in cuts, which included the elimination of 72 teacher positions, an increase in elementary classroom size and the creation of multigrade elementary classrooms. Following those cuts, the district approved about $1.05 million more toward the salary pool for teachers and other certified staff, which amounted to only an $825 pay increase for this school year. In addition to the 50 teacher reductions for next school year, the school board also voted to close two elementary schools.

The union’s proposal to add another catch-up step to the salary proposal will be discussed by the school board in executive session at its next meeting on June 12. District and union representatives are scheduled to meet again to discuss the contract at 4 p.m. on June 14. Once district and union representatives come to a tentative agreement on a proposed contract, it will be sent to the school board and all certified staff for a vote.

Pay raises for the district’s teachers and other certified staff are not the only employee raises being discussed. District representatives are also negotiating with the Personnel Association of Lawrence-Communication Workers of America, the union representing the district’s classified staff, such as paraeducators and food service workers. PAL-CWA is also seeking to improve wages.


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