Classified staff, teachers in Lawrence school district will see raises next year; new contracts ratified

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Classified staff and teachers in the Lawrence school district will receive raises next year after the school board on Monday ratified contracts negotiated by the district and its unions.

School board members on Monday unanimously approved contracts with the classified staff and teachers unions – PAL-CWA and Lawrence Education Association (LEA), respectively — for the 2023-24 year.

The base hourly pay for each classified staff member — including custodians, paraeducators, food workers and more — will increase at least $2.12, according to the approved contract. The lowest paid worker’s hourly salary will increase to $13.03.

Julie Donley, a PAL-CWA leader and paraeducator in the district, became emotional as she read to the board a statement on behalf of the union. These are the most substantial raises the district’s classified staff have received in at least the past 18 years, which is a victory, she said.

“We rallied, we signed petitions, we wore buttons, we wore red T-shirts, we wore signs with our low wages to work, we held informational pickets, we marched, we packed the bargaining room, and most importantly, we organized ourselves into the powerful force that is our union today,” Donley said. “We are so grateful to the community members who supported us by sharing our posts on social media, wearing red in solidarity and writing hundreds of emails to the school board.”

The fight isn’t over, though, Donley said. Next year, PAL-CWA’s goal is to improve health care benefits for classified staff as well as attain a $3 per hour raise, reaching a living wage for a single adult with no kids living in Lawrence.

Approximately $2.5 million out of the district’s budget will be added to the whole salary pool for classified staff.

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Additionally, the approved contract for certified staff will allow teachers who did not receive raises in past years two “catch up” steps on the salary matrix. 

The contract includes both vertical movement and horizontal movement, which refer to pay increases based on years of experience and levels of certification, respectively. There will now be 24 steps of vertical movement, as opposed to the previous 13 steps, so that teachers can achieve their top career earnings in less time. 

Raises will depend on individual teachers’ placements on the salary schedule as well as the year they were hired, and administrators said they will be coordinating with teachers moving forward to confirm where individuals are at. Those who are in their first 13 years of teaching would see one to two years of vertical movement, which would range from $400 to $1,700 per year of vertical movement. That’s $400 to $4,500 in total increases per teacher via vertical movement.

The approach will be a bit different to teachers with 14 years or more of teaching experience. Those with a bachelor’s degree or with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience but with no additional graduate credit would not move up a step. Rather, they would only see a pay increase if they are eligible for horizontal movement. Those with bachelor’s degrees plus 20 years of experience or more could see an increase of $1,000 to $11,000, depending on their years of experience teaching in public schools.

Teachers hired for the 2022-2023 school year will be eligible for one year of vertical movement, and teachers hired for the 2021-2022 year will be eligible for two years of vertical movement. Teachers hired in or prior to the 2020-2021 year will be eligible for up to three years of vertical movement. Each step of vertical movement ranges from $600 to $1,000, depending on an individual’s location within the salary matrix.

Special education teachers will see $1,800 stipends, as well.

Approximately $3.8 million out of the district’s budget will be added to the salary pool for certified staff.

Some board members praised Megan Epperson, assistant director of human resources, for leading the work to reorganize and balance the complex salary matrices.

Administrators will receive a $325,000 increase to their salary pool. Kristen Ryan, executive director of human resources, said the district is spending a total of $6.65 million to increase salaries among certified staff, classified staff and administrators.

Ryan said 56% of the salary pool increase went to certified staff, 39% went to classified staff and 5% went to administrators, including principals, associate principals and district office administrators.

She told the board that she believes there are approximately 875 certified staff (58.5%), 562 classified staff (37.6%) and between 54 and 59 administrators (3.8%) included in that data.

New board leadership

As part of its annual organizational meeting on Monday, the board elected a new president and vice president. Kelly Jones was selected to serve as the president, with all seven board members voting in favor. Shannon Kimball previously served as the president.

Bob Byers was selected to serve as the vice president. Board members Carole Cadue-Blackwood, GR Gordon Ross, Kimball, Jones and Byers voted for him, while board members Erica Hill and Paula Vann voted for Vann, who was the prior vice president.

Byers on Monday was also officially sworn in as the newest board member. After Kay Emerson’s resignation in May, the board went through a selection process and on June 26 voted for Byers to fill the vacant seat until the end of the term, through Jan. 12, 2026.

Additionally, the board approved its 2023-24 meeting calendar, which maintains regular meetings at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month with the exception of December and March, which each only include one meeting.

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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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