Pay increases for teachers, many other Lawrence school district employees nearly final; school board takes final vote on Monday

photo by: Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence school district offices, pictured in April 2021.

New contracts that include millions of dollars in raises for teachers and many other Lawrence school district employees are nearly final, and the Lawrence school board is poised to take the ultimate step on Monday night.

At its meeting Monday, the school board will vote on whether to ratify contracts between the school district and the two unions that represent its personnel: the Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers and other certified staff, and PAL-CWA, which represents a variety of non-teacher staff members known as classified staff. The two unions have already ratified the agreements with the district, and the only step left is for the board to take its final vote.

According to the school board’s meeting agenda materials, the agreements include $3.74 million to increase pay for the district’s teachers and other certified staff, and $2.58 million to increase pay for the classified staff — the category that includes paraeducators, food service workers, custodians and many other employees who aren’t teachers.

Emerson Hoffzales, president of the LEA, told the Journal-World the LEA’s contract was a “win for teachers” and something they should celebrate.

“This is a big step — it’s leap and bound,” Hoffzales said. “A lot of great work was done at the table on all sides.”

The LEA compensation package would be enough to give every instructor a raise of $3,675 if it were distributed evenly across the board, but that’s not what the plan calls for; instead, it would give bigger raises to the most experienced teachers, as well as those who have achieved higher levels of post-secondary education. Teachers who have more than 24 years of experience in the district, for instance, could be eligible for an increase of up to $11,000 to their yearly pay.

The agreement was designed, in part, to help catch teachers up on the pay scale, because teachers didn’t get any pay increases based on years of service in either of the past two years.

“It gets everybody back on the same playing field in terms of being caught up,” Hoffzales told the Journal-World.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the new agreement would also add more “steps” to the pay scale. Currently the annual pay increases max out after 13 years with the district; under the new salary schedule, they would max out after 24 years.

For the classified staff, PAL-CWA was seeking approximately $7 million for raises, but ultimately agreed to a deal that secured $2.58 million for raises.

As part of the deal, starting wages for classified staff increased to $13.03 per hour. Individual classified staff members will see pay increases ranging from $2.12 to $3.33 hourly depending on job level and assignment.

With the wage increases, the district estimates that 68% of its full-time classified staff will earn an hourly wage of $15 or more. That figure represents a 17.4% increase when compared to last year’s percentage of staff in the same income bracket, according to information provided by the district.

Lawrence school board president Shannon Kimball said the pay increases for employees would be “historic” in the context of her 12-year tenure on the board. She also praised fellow board members Paula Vann and Kelly Jones for their work as members of the board’s negotiating team.

“This is change-making work,” Kimball told the Journal-World. “(Both sides) have done an excellent job of moving these issues forward to a place where we can reach an agreement and do something that is going to be good for our staff.”

While he did not provide concrete data, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said he believed the increase for teachers and other certified staff would be the largest “in at least a decade.”

“While (the process) was difficult, this board made decisions that previous boards didn’t make” that paved the way for the pay increases, Lewis said. Among those were the decisions to close Pinckney and Broken Arrow elementary schools at the end of the 2022-23 school year to help free up more money in the district’s budget.

“Some of the same schools that were on the list were also there 12 years ago,” he said, adding that he empathized with those who were impacted by the closures. “But this board made that decision, and I believe we’re much better off.”

In other business Monday, the board will consider:

• A 4% percent wage increase for district administrators for the 2023-24 school year and a three-year contract extension for Lewis. District spokesperson Julie Boyle told the Journal-World that Lewis’ 4% increase would go to his benefits instead of his salary; he currently earns an annual salary of $229,295.

• An $1,800 stipend for special education teachers who are new to the school district. District officials believe the stipend would support hiring efforts for these hard-to-fill positions.

The school board meets at 6 p.m. Monday at the district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.


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