Lawrence school district, teachers come to tentative contract agreement, including pay raise

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

Negotiations between the Lawrence school district and its teachers wrapped earlier than usual this year, as the two sides came to a tentative agreement this week for the upcoming school year.

Representatives for the school district and the Lawrence Education Association, the local teachers union, both told the Journal-World on Wednesday that the discussions on a teacher contract for the 2020-21 school year were completed. The tentative agreement now awaits ratification by the members of the teachers union and the Lawrence school board.

The agreement includes a 2.4% pay increase for teachers, which totals about $1.35 million. Further details about the agreement were not immediately available.

Jeff Plinsky, a teacher at Lawrence High School and co-chair for the union’s negotiations team, said the negotiators met earlier and more often this year than in the past, leading to a quicker agreement.

“This round went really smoothly,” Plinsky said. “We actually started meeting monthly last September, and that gave us the opportunity to work on things a little at a time, rather than doing a whole lot of work at once.”

In 2018, the teachers and the school district negotiated for months, beginning in June and coming to an impasse that August. The negotiators then brought in a federal mediator, which eventually led to a finalized agreement in December, almost halfway through the school year the contract was for. Last year, the negotiators chose to keep using the federal mediator, which led to the sides ratifying an agreement in August.

Plinsky said the negotiators chose to continue using a mediator this year, which facilitated coming to an agreement earlier. Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield, who served on the school district’s negotiations team, agreed.

“Negotiations went well and we were a little ahead of last year’s schedule,” Stubblefield said in an email to the Journal-World.

While the agreement puts the teacher pay increase into a proposed contract, the Lawrence school board has already taken action to provide it. Last month, the school board approved budget amendments that included the planned 2.4% increase for teachers as well as increases for certified and administrative staff at the same rate.

Plinsky told the Journal-World the negotiators were able to sort out the teacher pay portion before other parts of the agreement, which was a departure from previous negotiations. Part of the reason that was possible was because the school board began looking at teacher pay increases earlier in its budgeting process, rather than allowing it to become one of the last issues that needs to be sorted out, he said.

“That removed a lot of the angst we’ve had in past years,” Plinsky said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that was instrumental in moving this forward smoothly.”

Similarly, the Kansas Legislature also approved a statewide budget — which includes significant public education funds — earlier than usual, Plinsky said. The Legislature approved its budget mid-March before taking an earlier and longer break in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers were originally scheduled to stay in session until the first week of April.

“In the past several years (the state budget) has been the thing that has caused us to put off the tail end of contract negotiations,” Plinsky said. “This year we didn’t have to do that.”

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