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Lawrence teachers union rep voices concerns about unpopular contract ahead of school board meeting

The Lawrence school board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, July 26, at 110 McDonald Drive.

Key points — the board will:

• Consider ratification of the 2021-2022 Master Agreement for certified teachers.

↪ Context: Negotiations teams for the Lawrence Education Association and the board entered into a tentative agreement on June 21. The full agreement had not been posted to the school district’s website as of Sunday afternoon, but a memo in the agenda packet provides a breakdown of a few items.

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Megan Epperson, LEA negotiations co-chair, said via email that the agreement does not contain across-the-board raises for teachers. Epperson said about ⅔ of certified staff members voted during the ratification process. Although it passed, the agreement isn’t popular.

“This year, we saw the highest number of ‘no’ votes in recent memory, which speaks to how unsustainable this financial situation is for teachers. For years, teachers have been asked to be patient, and after the most challenging year of many of our careers, that patience is gone.” 

Provided by LEA, the following chart shows estimated retirements and resignations by teachers for the last four years. Notably, the 2020-2021 school year — a full school year during the COVID-19 pandemic — saw a spike in the number of teachers leaving the district.

Epperson estimates 1,000 certified teachers work in the district. With 125 teachers retiring or resigning as of June 29, that translates to an exodus of about 13% of district teachers. About 8% of teachers leave the profession annually, according to federal data.

Special education teacher Megan Welch left her job at Prairie Park Elementary for a new beginning out of state. As for the contract the board will consider Monday, Welch said, “Stupid to ratify such a pitiful contract.”

“It’s extremely clear that the district does not prioritize teachers,” Welch said. “Can’t even give me pay commensurate with my years of experience.”

Welch is referring to vertical movement, which means the teacher would move one step vertically on the pay scale, as most school districts allow teachers to do each year to represent years of teaching experience. The contract being considered by the board does not offer this.

Epperson said the possibility for teachers in their current positions to earn additional wages still exists, but only for those who’ve “invested their money in further education” — such as the pursuit of a master’s degree or doctorate.

Welch asked, “How am I supposed to afford higher education if I can’t make more money each year to keep up with the cost of living?”

The district will continue to provide certified staff fully paid single plans for medical, dental and vision coverage during the 2021-2022 school year. And employees who add spouses and other family members to their plans will see a premium reduction. In addition, a one-time taxable payment of $366 will be issued to qualifying certified staff members in the fall to reflect insurance premium savings. A post on the district’s Facebook page Sunday says eligible certified staff will also see increases of up to $500 in federal COVID-relief payments via ESSER ll grant funds.

Epperson said teachers “have every right to be angry at the situation.”

“The current financial situation is a horrific ‘thank you’ after such an awful year that put so many teachers at risk, mentally and physically. Complicating the financial situation further, Lawrence hasn’t grown in its school population over the last few years when other surrounding districts have, which drives the majority of funding. Lawrence lost close to 700 students with the pandemic, which dramatically cut funding to last year’s and this upcoming school year’s budgets.”

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Epperson said during the last decade, LEA has successfully advocated for the district’s financial reserves to be spent on salary increases for teachers during financial situations that left other districts with frozen pay schedules; however, this means there are barely any reserves left to fund salary or movement increases after COVID-19’s dramatic impact.

“The Lawrence community has rallied behind educator pay during the listening tours hosted by the district. It’s incredibly unfortunate that educators have to bear the impact of this situation and our team did not come to the decision to support this contract lightly,” Epperson said. “Our negotiations team supports this contract due to the current financial situation but is committed to maintaining and building salary and movement that recruits and retains educators moving forward into this fall.”

Epperson said in typical years, negotiations start with language concerns and budget discussions occur near the end of the cycle in the summer. However, after this contract process, both sides of the negotiations teams agreed it’s crucial to begin conversations this fall surrounding salary first in order to “proactively plan the budget and any cuts accordingly,” Epperson said.

The school board approved a three-year contract renewal for Superintendent Anthony Lewis, without a raise on an annual salary of $226,530, at its meeting July 12.


Hear an update on the district’s partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools.

↪ Context: According to a memo in the agenda packet, the mission of EOS is to “ensure that students of color and low-income students have equitable access to America’s most academically intense high school programs and succeed at highest levels.” EOS helps identify students of color and those from low-income backgrounds who qualify for but are missing from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.

Free State and Lawrence high schools participated in EOS during the 2020-2021 school year. Data from the schools and next steps will be included in the report, as well as efforts to increase enrollment in advanced classes. Find the presentation slides here.

With 637 students participating in AP classes among 11th and 12th graders, 435 — or 68% — are white students from homes with medium to high income levels, as shown in the chart below.

This chart shows the participation rates in Advanced Placements courses among 11th and 12th graders various races and economic groups at Free State and Lawrence high schools.

The highest participation in AP classes among students of color and those considered low-income are students identifying as Asian with 12 of 17 students, or 71%. The lowest participation falls among students identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native with 1 of 19 students enrolled in AP classes, or 5%.


Find the full board meeting agenda and related documents here.

Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26 at 6 p.m. Monday. To sign up to share public comments in person or via WebEx, email publiccomment@usd497.org before 6 p.m. Monday. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or video conferencing.

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