Lawrence school district’s classified staff union accepts $2 hourly base pay increase

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Post updated at 8:48 p.m. Thursday, June 8:

The Lawrence school district and its union for classified staff on Thursday afternoon came to an agreement that each classified staff member will receive a $2.12 base increase to their hourly pay next year, falling far short of the union’s requests.

And with that, the negotiations team officially concluded its 2023-24 salary contract for classified staff, which PAL-CWA Co-Vice President Tatyana Younger said is a victory.

“I feel really amazing right now,” Younger said. “I know that this is the first step of many wins to get us to a living wage. But knowing that this is probably one of the biggest raises that a lot of our staff have seen in years now really touches my heart, and I’m just glad that we can do right by so many of our classified staff workers.”

PAL-CWA (Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communication Workers of America) represents classified staff, including paraeducators, secretaries, custodial staff, food service workers and more, within the Lawrence school district. The union on Thursday afternoon returned to the bargaining table expecting the district’s final counteroffer to its salary request.

PAL-CWA during its last bargaining session asked the district for $7 million to give every staff member a $6.34 per hour raise. This would bring the district’s lowest paid staff members, who currently make $9.70 per hour, up to a living wage – approximately $16.04 per hour for a single adult with no kids in Lawrence.

As opposed to the union’s request for $7 million, the district’s final offer totals about $2.58 million in compensation allocation. That breaks down to about $234,400 to implement the new salary matrix, $142,000 to fund horizontal movement, which refers to years of service, and $2.2 million to fund the base salary increase.

According to the agreement, the new starting hourly wage for classified staff members has increased from $9.70 to $10.91. By adding $2.12 extra to the base pay, the new starting hourly wage will be bumped up to $13.03. The new average hourly wage for classified staff members has increased from $15.10 to $15.35.

Under these new matrix implementations, instructional monitor staff will see an increase of $3.33 per hour to their positions; paraeducators will see an increase of $2.57 per hour; food service assistants will see an increase of $2.56; and custodians will see an increase of $2.12.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Tatyana Younger, co-vice president of PAL-CWA, speaks into a bullhorn during a union rally, June 8, 2023 at Lawrence school district offices.

Prior to the agreement, district partners asked the union to choose between two matrix options. Younger and PAL-CWA Co-Vice President Ashley Eicholtz led negotiations together at the table Thursday. After convening privately, the union came back to the table and announced to its district partners that it had chosen the latter option: “Compress 3 + Nested with horizontal movement.”

This would make it easier to find raises within a complicated salary matrix and easier to ensure the lowest paid workers receive raises, PAL-CWA President Hannah Allison-Natale said. Staff members’ wages would remain the same for three years, but those eligible for horizontal movement will receive an approximate $0.10 increase to their hourly wages. The union will then bargain for raises each year so that everyone can experience raises every year.

“I think that we should never try and limit ourselves, and what we ask for in any space — whether it be work, in our personal lives — you should always ask for the most that you want and then see what you’re willing to concede to,” Younger said. 

“Even though it’s not the $7 million we asked for, I don’t think there was a way to get to that $7 million right now. We just want people to know we’re fighting for the best that we can get. I’m made energized by this work because I think we live in a time where people are really hopeless or people have given up that the world can get better and being in a union proves to me constantly that the world can be better.”


In addition to falling short of the requested $7 million in compensation, district administrators denied or compromised on some of the union’s other requests, like including a nondiscrimination policy within the contract, for example. The union asked that the nondiscrimination policy be included in the contract so that the process for filing grievances is clearer. 

David Cunningham, an attorney with Kansas Association of School Boards who provides legal counsel to the Lawrence school district, said a discrimination grievance is not a contract issue, and it’s non-negotiable, so implementing it into contract language would not be appropriate.

The union chose to counter that item, to which the district came back and offered to insert a bullet point under a different item in the contract — union representation — that will state union members can be present at nondiscrimination and harassment hearings. PAL-CWA accepted that offer to conclude the negotiations meeting.

Cunningham said he and his team believe the district’s final offer is a “significant improvement” to staff compensation.

The school board over time has approved a budget reduction package for next year, which includes cuts to 50 full-time teachers, switching from laptops to iPads for high school students, closing two elementary schools and more. Administrators have been clear that their ultimate goal with the cuts is to achieve competitive staff wages by increasing employees’ salaries.

‘We need this for stability in our lives’

PAL-CWA members and supporters rallied in front of district offices before the negotiation session began. Attendees wore red and chanted phrases, like “What do we want? A living wage! When do we want it? Now!” and “Get up, get down. Lawrence is a union town.” 

Union members, current and former district employees, parents, children and community members eagerly awaited the district’s counteroffer to the union’s wage proposal before heading inside.

“We’re here today to demonstrate our power and how united we are in fighting for a raise – for a living wage,” Allison-Natale said. “I think people are really excited. We’ve been fighting for a really long time, and we’re really hopeful that all the power we’ve built is gonna translate into some real material wins to some changes to people’s wages.”

Allison-Natale said costs of food, gas and basic necessities have risen, but wages have not followed.

“We did some research, and we’re some of the lowest paid hourly staff in the region,” they said. “People need this money to not have to work two and three jobs, to not have to sleep on friends’ couches or some in their cars. We need this for stability in our lives.”

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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