Lawrence school board ratifies teachers union contract, hears equity report on rigorous high school courses and more

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The Lawrence school board met Monday at district offices. Here are items from our preview and what happened with them, plus some additional notes.

Key points — the board:

Ratified the 2021-2022 Master Agreement for certified teachers.

↪ Context: Negotiations teams for the board and Lawrence Education Association — the teachers union — entered into a tentative agreement on June 21. As reported by the Times, the agreement does not give raises for vertical movement, which is the process of moving upward on the pay scale according to experience. Educators can earn additional wages for furthering their education, such as the pursuit of a master’s degree or doctorate.

↪️  Passed, 6-0. Board member Melissa Johnson did not attend.

Megan Epperson, negotiations co-chair for the LEA told the Times in an email the “vast majority of our teachers will receive no change in salary and this kind of financial situation is unsustainable for educators.”

Epperson said about ⅔ of certified staff members voted during the ratification process. Although it passed, the agreement isn’t popular after a year of educators being put “at risk, mentally and physically” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging a tough budget situation and a drop in enrollment of nearly 700 students last year, Epperson said teachers “have every right to be angry at the situation.”

After Sept. 20 enrollment counts, Epperson said the agreement provides for a reopener clause for salary discussions with updates on the budget that could impact salaries. She said the ratification by the teachers union delivered the most “no” votes in recent memory.

Board member Kelly Jones, who serves on the negotiations team, said the board wasn’t satisfied with the outcome either.

“We have committed to and continue to commit to working to find a path toward increasing or improving our salary package for the next year, so we are ready to start that work immediately.”

Board Vice President Shannon Kimball said the financial state of the district is due in part to rising fixed costs, inflation and the history of unconstitutional underfunding of Kansas schools. The board has struggled with the balance of allocating limited funds to the meet educational needs of students and the financial needs of staff, Kimball said.

“Be fully informed about the history of school finance in our state and the history of how our district has tried to manage what has been some of the most difficult financial times in public education in our state,” she said. “Before you blame and shame school boards for the budget (problems) … created by the Kansas Legislature and not by the people sitting at this table or the people who have sat up here with me during the last 10 years.”

Executive Director of Human Resources Samrie Devin told the board the negotiations team agreed to form a committee of LEA leadership, Lawrence Virtual School teachers and administration, and district leaders for the purpose of recommending additions to the master agreement for LVS professional staff that will address their unique job expectations and working conditions.

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

↪ Context: 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. Having access to AP and IB classes helps prepare students for college and careers while decreasing barriers to college and career readiness.

Lawrence Public Schools Executive Director of Inclusion, Engagement and Belonging Cynthia Johnson and EOS Partnership Director Amber Brown shared with the board how EOS and the district worked together during the 2021-2022 school year to increase equitable enrollment in rigorous courses at Free State and Lawrence high schools.

In Lawrence Public Schools, white students are 1.4 times more likely than Latinx students to enroll in AP classes, 1.9 times more likely than Black students, and 2.7 times more likely than Alaskan Native and American Indian students.

Brown said the launch year was a diagnostic period, which involved conducting surveys and outreach during a pandemic. While rigorous course enrollment “dropped significantly” across the country, Brown said LHS and FSHS made the program a priority during its first school year.

This chart provides data on advanced course participation by students of color at Lawrence high schools. Blue bars show participation in AP courses during the 2020-2021 school year compared to projected enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year, shown in green.
Screenshot Lawrence Public Schools

Johnson said the process has provided the district with baseline data. One of the ways the EOS program gathered data was through surveys to help staff see areas of potential growth. Teachers asked to expand that feature to include all students in the fall. 

Barriers included reaching remote students, and successes included survey completion rates and involving students and families in equity teamwork at the schools.

“When that information was shared and teachers got an opportunity to have a greater insight into the life of a child from a child’s perspective, teachers immediately said, ‘Can we have a set of insight cards for every class?’” Johnson said.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district’s equity policy that was approved by the board in May addresses the district’s goal of eliminating opportunity inequities among marginalized identities. Lewis said the Lawrence Schools Foundation has helped support the EOS program financially, along with district funding. An agenda item shows the board approved an agreement between the district and EOS for its services at the high schools in the amount of $54,000 plus up to $7,000 in travel expenses at its meeting on July 27, 2020.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of this partnership and what EOS can do for our scholars,” Lewis said.

Other notes:

Special recognitions were given to district students in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Health Leadership Academy mentorship program, which is in its third year. High school juniors and seniors get a boost in careers in health, medicine and biosciences while participating in a paid internship. Admission preferences are given to candidates whose race or ethnicity has been underrepresented in the healthcare profession and those from low-income backgrounds. LHS seniors recognized were: Chais Chickaway, Unique Hall, LaDerrick Reeves, Ahnie Scott, Jesse Self and Zoe Symons. FSHS seniors Gabi Carttar, Evan Darrow and Ta’Mya Douglas were also recognized.

• During his superintendent report, Lewis addressed the recent announcement of COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year. The district will require all individuals, age 2 and older, who aren’t fully vaccinated “to wear cloth face coverings or masks when indoors on school property” and won’t request proof of vaccination. All bus and van riders and drivers will also be required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Isolation and quarantine procedures will be followed based upon the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Guidelines. Mitigation strategies are subject to change, Lewis reminded the community.

Kimball said positive COVID-19 cases are increasing. She said she supports a universal masking mandate in schools and a further conversation by the district is warranted.

“Rising concerns about the spread of this (delta) variant are not hyperbole or fear mongering,” Kimball said.

Jones said she appreciated the work that went into the COVID-19 protocols, but she said she’s concerned about an honor system to monitor masking. Jones said she’d like to see the board to consider asking those who don’t mask to voluntarily provide proof of vaccination status.

“That, to me, is part of our mission to ensure that our students remain in person, in school as much as possible and that we protect our economy in Lawrence and the jobs of the staff that we employ. But most importantly, I do not want to have another year where students are not in person. I just want to see that as much as possible we’ve done everything we possibly can to ensure that our students are in school and that requires that we’re vaccinated. And right now, in this county, we’re vaccinated about 55% of us, fully vaccinated.”

• Jones told the board the city had recently informed the board it would cut WRAP funding in its upcoming budget. Through a partnership with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the WRAP program provides mental health support in district schools. 

“If there was ever a time we needed WRAP it is now,” Jones said. “It’s a partnership we depend on, and to give us little or no notice that you will be cutting that funding is absolutely inappropriate because we do not have time to respond in the current fiscal situation that we are in. So I’m asking our city partners … if you are changing your funding structure as it relates to things that impact the school district, I would greatly appreciate some notice that is more than the night of the meeting.” 

• The board approved a personnel report in the consent agenda that included the immediate appointment of Jason Kingman as assistant principal and athletic director at Southwest Middle School. Kingman replaces Susan Cooper, who was  selected as Lawrence Virtual School principal, according to a news release. Previously, Kingman worked in the district as a special education facilitator.

• Advance voting for city elections ends Monday, Aug. 2. The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 3. Twelve candidates are vying for three spots on the school board. The primary will advance six candidates to the general election.

Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson and Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander will visit the district for a community conversation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at district offices. It’s part of the Kansans Can Success Tour, which aims for Kansans to discuss the future they envision for education in the state.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9. Find the board meeting agenda and related documents here. Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26.

Email before 6 p.m. Aug. 9 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

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