The Lawrence school district gave its final offer of a 1.8% increase in teacher salaries Monday, declining to go any higher than the $796,874 in salary raise funds offered at the last negotiations meeting.
After the last meeting, on June 2, the Lawrence Education Association (LEA) — the union that represents certified teachers in Lawrence Public Schools — weighed other options and returned to Monday’s meeting with a new proposal.
LEA’s counter-ask was to add $1,200 to the base teacher salary and fund horizontal movement, increasing the salary pool by approximately 2.3% with the hope that “breakage” would cover horizontal movement funding. Breakage refers to the difference amount between a retired teacher’s salary and the teacher now replacing that spot’s salary. If horizontal movement — staff moving up the pay scale after receiving additional years of higher education — was included, there would be a proposed 2.65% increase to the salary pool.
After stepping away for a closed-door meeting with district representatives, school board member Paula Smith announced that the board could not offer anything more than what was offered at the last meeting.
Megan Epperson, who is currently LEA treasurer and will be co-chair of next year’s LEA negotiations team, shared her frustrations with this decision. She said LEA made an intentional effort to plan ahead on this year’s negotiations, especially because of the district’s task to cut $6.4 million from its budget, yet teacher salaries were not made a priority.
“I very much recognize this year and the number of things that were outside of the board’s control made it very challenging for navigating the budget this year. But I’m thinking back to when we were still in traditional bargaining and it’s something that frequently came up was frustration that it felt like teacher salaries were last on the list,” Epperson said.
LEA began discussing salary increases in September and gave their official ask in December, according to Epperson.
“The point was to be able to start that negotiating process then. So to have a counter that is a final offer at the beginning of June, almost six months later, kind of gets away from what I think we were trying to do and the acknowledgment of getting ahead and trying to plan ahead,” Epperson said.
Board Vice President Shannon Kimball, who was filling in for board member Kelly Jones at the meeting, said the board will improve on its timeliness with the negotiations process in the future.
“I’m committed to pushing that process to happen earlier than we have in the past,” Kimball said.
LEA decided to focus more on funding horizontal movement for now rather than vertical movement — staff moving up on the pay scale according to years of experience — which was a difficult decision to make, Epperson said. Vertical movement has been tougher to tackle, especially because there was no vertical movement last year, either. That means approximately 50% of LEA’s bargaining unit of teachers did not see any salary movement last year.
Epperson called for support from the district in the budget planning process and to help encourage teachers to stay in the district amid issues.
“We can’t have that conversation alone and so having some kind of commitment and knowing what parameters [the board is] willing to work on would be helpful,” Epperson said.
LEA leaders hope to be getting closer to a salary agreement, which will then be brought to a vote. They will continue discussion at the next contract negotiations meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on July 15.