Lawrence school district, classified staff labor union reach tentative agreement with slight pay increase

photo by: Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

A labor union representing the Lawrence school district’s classified staff has a tentative agreement with district administrators that includes a slight increase in pay.

However, a school board member on the negotiations committee said discussions to further increase pay are expected later this fall.

During a school board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced that a 2021-22 school year agreement had been reached with PAL-CWA, which represents the district’s paraeducators, custodians and other staff positions.

Lewis said the union is expected to consider ratifying the agreement on Oct. 20. The school board would then consider approval to finalize the agreement on Oct. 25.

The board met privately in executive session during the meeting to discuss negotiating with the union but did not take any action on the matter.

Board member G.R. Gordon-Ross, who serves on the negotiations committee for the district, told the Journal-World after the meeting the proposed contract includes an initial 0.24% increase in pay, or roughly $48,000 in total compensation.

The 0.24% increase matches the total compensation increases previously provided to the district’s administrative staff and the teachers union this school year. However, similar to what was offered to the teachers union, the district and the PAL-CWA plan to reopen negotiations after the contract is ratified to continue discussing pay increases.

“The budget constraints of the district put us in a position where both sides needed to recognize that the best option was to get a contract now and use this year … to then tackle financial issues going forward,” Gordon-Ross said. “As soon as that contract is finalized, we’re going to go right back into it and start work on the financial piece.”

The teachers union approved its contract in August. Gordon-Ross said it reopened pay discussions with the district last week.

If ratified, the PAL-CWA contract would mark the first bargained agreement between the union and the district. A major issue for the union has been staff pay. During a board meeting in August, members of the union said they were asking the board to increase pay for classified staff because they are paid less than a living wage.

But providing a substantial pay increase may be difficult for the district, which has been dealing with budget shortfalls because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hannah Allison-Natale, interim president for PAL-CWA, told the Journal-World the union is proud to have an tentative agreement, noting it took five years of organizing to get to this point. But Allison-Natale said the union still believes the district needs to work harder in providing better wages for classified staff and that the union does not believe the district has been transparent about its budget decisions during the bargaining process.

“We will continue to fight until all staff make a living wage and our schools are fully staffed so that we can provide the best education for our children,” Allison-Natale said.

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