The Lawrence school district’s certified teachers union is considering changes to the salary matrix to improve recruitment and retention, including more equal pay movement.
Lawrence Education Association (LEA)’s salary matrix subcommittee presented to the Lawrence school board during Monday’s meeting about its work to improve future teacher salaries amid an influx of teacher exits — those leaving the district for other districts.
Part of that work included reviewing salary matrices at several surrounding districts in Kansas — such as Topeka, Maize, Manhattan and more — and comparing those with the Lawrence school district to find ways to improve its function.
“Our goal was not to be the best; our goal was to be competitive,” Megan Epperson, Broken Arrow Elementary music teacher and interim LEA President, said during the meeting.
Matt Ellis, Lawrence High math teacher and LEA negotiations team member, explained the subcommittee is considering the idea of “equalization” in the teacher salary matrix, meaning all teachers would receive the same pay increase when moving horizontally — pay increases for teachers who achieve additional certification or levels of higher education — and vertically, teachers moving up the pay scales according to years of experience.
The matrix currently includes different outcomes for teachers based on years of experience and additional certification or levels of higher education, so the change would essentially “equalize” each step across the table, Ellis explained.
Ellis also said other area school districts utilize equalization more as opposed to the Lawrence school district’s “hodgepodge” matrix as a result of budget cuts.
“Our table is currently all over the place,” Ellis said during the meeting. “It’s just from years of having to carve out dollar amounts over different negotiation cycles, and one of our goals was to kind of make that a little more even.”
Currently, the district’s salary matrix has 13 “steps” in which teachers achieve pay increases. Each step leads toward their top career earnings. Surrounding districts utilize more steps as well as offer higher pay at their top steps, Epperson said.LEA-Salary-Comparison-Presentation-with-New-Proposals
“We are seeing things like $75,000, $80,000 on their top step where we have $55,000 on our top step,” Epperson said during the meeting.
To shorten that gap, the salary matrix subcommittee wants to consider using a “Max 24 + Equalization” option, which would have 24 steps instead of 13 and apply equalization. 24 steps would allow teachers to reach their top career earnings in less time.
“Our small subcommittee has talked about how much we’re really interested in the Max 24 + Equalization,” Epperson said during the meeting. “We love the idea of creating predictability for our staff.”
Epperson also said throughout the subcommittee’s research, she questioned the fairness of higher pay increases for teachers with higher certification statuses. For example, teachers who obtained a master’s degree in their second year with the district would receive a $950 increase, whereas a teacher who obtained a master’s degree in their 12th year would receive a $1,500 increase.
“Why are we saying it’s worth more in one year than the other in terms of how our schedule is currently set up?” Epperson said during the meeting. “If we equalized it, it would be worth the same amount no matter when you achieved it.”
The salary matrix subcommittee’s work is ultimately meant to lead to a recommendation to LEA’s negotiations team regarding next year’s contracts.
During a school board meeting on Aug. 22 when the school board and LEA ratified this year’s contract to include an $825 pay increase for teachers, Epperson said LEA had to make a tough choice to prioritize increases for all teachers rather than half with vertical movement. This is the second year teachers did not receive increases with vertical movement.
Adopting the model with 24 steps and equalization is estimated to cost approximately $4.4 million more than the district’s current model with 13 steps. That’s an 8.65% cost increase. According to Ellis, this number is not fully accurate as it’s in an early stage; rather, it’s a comparative number.
Epperson said LEA is committed to keeping all staff members where they are or better and that no cuts to salaries will be made. Nothing is finalized as the LEA negotiations team may agree or disagree with the recommendations when they review the data in January, she said.
Board President Shannon Kimball shared her personal experiences talking with teachers who left the district and went to surrounding districts for better pay.
“Those teachers who say to me, ‘I want to stay in Lawrence Public Schools, but I could go up the road to Leavenworth or any number of other districts and make $5,000, $10,000, $12,000 more at this point in my career, and I have to do that for the sake of my own self and my family,’” Kimball said.
“I would encourage all of us to really take seriously that we have to fix that problem.”