Certified staff in the Lawrence school district will all receive an $825 salary increase, the school board and teachers union agreed Monday in ratifying a 2022-23 contract.
The Lawrence Education Association (LEA) had been pushing for both vertical movement – staff moving up the pay scale as their years of employment or experience increase – and horizontal movement, staff moving up the pay scale as they receive additional certifications or years of higher education.
After LEA gave its final ask of a 2.65% increase to the salary pool as well as horizontal movement, the board at a June 13 negotiations meeting presented its final offer of a 1.8% increase to the teacher salary pool. They came to a tentative agreement on Aug. 9.
For a week leading up to Monday night, all certified staff in the district were prompted to vote on whether or not to ratify the tentative agreement. Between 60 and 70% of all certified staff participated in the vote via an online survey.
Megan Epperson, LEA treasurer and co-negotiations lead, presented the results of that vote to the board during Monday’s meeting and said the “no” votes were the same percentage, 23%, as last year, when staff did not receive raises. She said because of this year’s salary increase, they expected an increase in “yes” votes, but that was not the case.
Epperson shared that LEA made a difficult decision to focus on a salary increase for all staff rather than push for just vertical movement for only about half the staff who would qualify, making this another year when certified staff will not see any vertical movement.
“I think this kind of speaks to the importance of looking at certified salaries in the long term and the importance of trying to find ways as well to address that vertical movement because we have folks now that are two steps behind,” she said during Monday’s meeting.
“If I use myself as an example, I’m entering my ninth year here teaching in the district, but I will stay at step 7, which for my take-home impacts about a $2,150 cut — or I could be receiving that much more dollars if we had been moving and corresponding with years of experience,” Epperson said.
Epperson and Matt Ellis, a member of the negotiations team, also shared data they’d compiled on other districts’ teacher salaries. They found that a teacher from the Lawrence school district would be making about 16.7% more in the Shawnee Mission School District.
There will be a 1% increase to the administration salary pool, Kristen Ryan, executive director of human resources, told the board.
In other business:
• New benefit for classified staff: Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced during Monday’s meeting that the district will offer a free early learning program to classified staff’s preschool-age students.
Starting Sept. 6, classified staff, such as paraeducators, custodians and food service workers, with 3- and 4-year-old children can use the new benefit. Lewis said the benefit is also meant to help the district find and retain employees.
• Vote on board applicants: The board voted on four candidates for a vacant school board seat who will advance to interviews. Those will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
• Title fund allocation: During a work session prior to the regular meeting, Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly presented on the district’s allocation of Title funds, or federal dollars given to schools based on student demographic populations.
Title I funds specifically target students living in poverty. Currently, the district uses its Title I funds for eight elementary schools in the district where students who are living in poverty make up 40% or more of the student population, and it has been for approximately the last 10 years at least, Kelly said.
Kelly said Title I has been strategically focused at the elementary level, but the district is considering spreading the funds to the secondary level. Kelly shared two options for potential changes that would mean middle schools that qualify, including Liberty Memorial Central and Billy Mills, could begin receiving Title I funding.
“Typically we think we can make the biggest gains at that elementary (level). We want to get kids reading as soon as possible, so putting those funds … Typically we see our elementary students come in with large learning deficits. That’s not saying we don’t have challenges at our middle schools,” Kelly said.
If the district decides to consider options to distribute Title funds to middle schools, it would not be able to implement changes until next year since the 2022-23 funds have already been allocated, Kelly said. The board did not take any action Monday.
• Montessori fees: The board unanimously approved charging $4,860 to “full pay” 3- and 4-year-old Montessori students, meaning those whose families do not qualify for preschool-aged at-risk funding from the state. Parents or guardians of full pay students can choose to make monthly payments of $540 for nine months.
The board will meet next at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, to interview candidates for the vacant seat. The board’s next regular meeting will be a budget meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12.