Lawrence school district and teachers union draft proposal for stopgap measure regarding schedules, 50 teacher position cuts

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence school board member Kelly Jones, in green, speaks during a contract negotiations meeting between district and Lawrence Education Association representatives. School Board Vice President Paula Vann, the other board representative in contract negotiations, is seated to the left of Jones.

To address a violation of teachers’ employment contract, representatives for the Lawrence school district and its teachers union have drafted a stopgap proposal regarding middle school schedule changes for next school year to help accommodate the elimination of 50 teaching positions.

As part of a contract negotiations meeting on Thursday evening, representatives for the district and the Lawrence Education Association, the union representing teachers and other certified staff, drafted a memorandum of understanding that, if approved, would implement changes to the middle school schedule for a period of one year. The MOU, which still needs to be voted on by the bargaining team, would put in place schedule changes that reduce elective hours and instructional time for students and decrease collaboration time for teachers.

Kristen Ryan, the district’s executive director of human resources, said that keeping the current middle school schedule while also accommodating the 50 position cuts, which the school board already approved, would result in unmanageable increases in classroom size.

“I think everyone agrees that this is for a year,” Ryan said. “How do we make it the best year possible with what we have?”

The draft MOU states that both parties agree “there is the possibility of this new format not working successfully,” and would put the schedule changes in place for one year only and establish a committee of district, union and middle school leadership and staff representatives to assess the issue. The committee, which would begin meeting in August, would gather data on how the new schedule is going and note possible changes to be discussed during contract negotiations next school year. The MOU was drafted as a way to address a violation of the union’s existing contract.

The school board previously approved the 50 teacher reductions at the middle and high school levels related to the schedule changes, which were created by district administration, but an LEA committee reviewing the schedule changes determined that because they increase teacher workload, they violate the existing contract and should have been negotiated. The schedule changes have been a key discussion point in contract negotiations, with some LEA representatives saying that the changes have significant negative impacts for both students and teachers.

Sarah Rossillon, chair of the LEA bargaining team, said the MOU was an attempt to solve the issue created when district administrators proposed schedule changes that should have been developed instead through interest-based bargaining (IBB), the contract negotiation process that LEA and the district utilize that is based on mutual interest and joint problem solving. While she said there is not a perfect solution, something needed to be done so the district could move forward with scheduling and teacher assignments and end some of the uncertainty teachers are facing.

“At this point there is no perfect way to solve it,” Rossillon said. “Because we just got here from a way that is not IBB, and we’re trying to IBB something that we have only a fraction of control of … So what can we do that’s best for our staff and our students to get things going so that we can get people hired, because people are leaving.”

Some LEA representatives previously said they felt the schedule changes being put forward by district administration represented bad-faith bargaining, and the issue of trust and whether union membership would vote to approve the MOU were both concerns acknowledged on Thursday. LEA representative Marcia Riggins said that to move forward, she thought the district needed to publicly acknowledge the mistake.

“Owning up and then moving forward — but if there’s no (owning up), it just feels really bad,” she said. “And so the next time it happens or the next time something comes up, how do we trust they’re not going to do what happened this time?”

Lawrence school board member Kelly Jones, a member of the district’s bargaining team, said she thought the mistake was inadvertent. Jones, who has acknowledged the error, said that she thought the district could take steps — including a commitment to examine the choices made and to apply the savings from the 50 teacher cuts to teacher wages as requested by the union — to build back that trust.

“Those are the action steps that we can take from here that will demonstrate good will and hopefully build that trust back up,” Jones said.

As part of the meeting Thursday, both district and LEA representatives shared lists of pros and cons for the proposed schedule changes before drafting the MOU. Though there appeared to be a general consensus that the MOU was the best option to address the problem at hand, the bargaining team did not vote on the draft MOU as part of Thursday’s meeting because a legal review still needs to be completed.

One outstanding legal question was whether the MOU could be voted on separately from the rest of the LEA contract, which includes proposals for wage increases and other changes and is still being negotiated. The bargaining team is interested in finalizing the MOU as soon as possible because school counselors need to build the new schedule before school ends for the year later this month.

District and LEA representatives agreed to meet at 5:15 p.m. on Monday to vote on the draft MOU. The MOU would then be considered by the bargaining unit and the school board.


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