Lawrence teacher pay stagnated near the bottom compared to similar districts as admin pay rose and fell.

Share this post or save for later

Note: This story is part three of a series using data to evaluate Lawrence Public Schools enrollment, staff pay and budgets. The Times examined hundreds of Kansas Department of Education budget documents from school districts across Kansas. Read more from the series at this link.

Lawrence teachers spent years with wages near the bottom compared to similar sized school districts. But recent efforts to raise teacher wages have helped teacher salaries move closer to other districts.

The gap between teacher pay in Lawrence and other districts had grown larger and larger until the 2022-23 school year, when teacher wages jumped closer to similar districts.

Advertisement

For much of the time that Lawrence’s average teacher pay stagnated near the bottom, administrator pay was much closer to the average of other districts. 

“For most of my tenure on the bargaining team, the major frustration seemed to be that teacher compensation ranked dead last on the district’s priorities list,” said Lawrence teacher David Reber, who served on the Lawrence Education Association negotiations team for a decade in the early 2010s. 

David Reber

“They seemed to set the budget long before coming to the bargaining table to talk money,” Reber continued. “They would come to the table having set practically zero dollars aside to bargain with.” 

This trend is especially notable between 2018 and 2020, when Lawrence’s enrollment was higher but teacher salaries lagged behind administrators’. Increases in pay for administrators put them into the top five Kansas districts for administrative pay among the 10 largest districts statewide. Over those same years, teacher pay in Lawrence remained close to the bottom of the rankings.

“There were a couple years when we did get a moderate raise,” Reber said. “This followed the latest Kansas Supreme Court rulings on public school finance and subsequent increases in state funding. Still, Lawrence’s salaries lagged far behind many surrounding districts.” 

The district’s enrollment challenges and subsequent budget and staff pay decisions have changed the way Lawrence compares to other large districts. The last 10 years tell a story of shifting priorities for how staff groups get paid.

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

In 2014-15, Lawrence ranked below similar districts when comparing the gap between administrator and teacher salaries, meaning they had a larger pay gap between the two groups.

In 2019-20, as the district implemented flat percentage raises that inflated administrator salaries faster than teacher salaries, the gap widened. Lawrence had the third-largest pay gap out of similar districts.

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

However, due to the recent shifts in salary for teachers and administrators, the 2022-23 pay ratio puts Lawrence back to where it was in 2014-15: still below the median, but closer than the large gap that had developed for years in the 2010s.

“Families want high-quality education for their children,” district spokesperson Julie Boyle said. “Everything that Lawrence Public Schools does is aimed at improving the educational experiences, achievement, and success of students.” 

Advertisement

Emerson Hoffzales, Lawrence Education Association president, credited the hard work of the LEA’s negotiations team for the raises that have helped ameliorate the growing pay gap. 

Emerson Hoffzales

“We held them accountable,” they said. “LEA members and our members on the negotiations team have held our district administration and school board members accountable to the priorities they voiced. Every time we have met at the table, we have been vocal about our members’ needs and the workload that is constantly weighing down on us.” 

One example of what differing salary ratios can look like in practice is in Maize’s school district, where teacher pay averages 70% of administrator pay, compared to Lawrence’s 54%. 

Despite Maize having a relatively similar enrollment size to Lawrence, teachers in Maize have earned thousands more over the past decade.

However, administrators in Lawrence have earned thousands more than those in Maize during the same period.

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

Advertisement

Baldwin presents another comparison to the larger pay gap in Lawrence. Teachers and classified staff in Baldwin have made similar wages compared to their Lawrence counterparts since 2014-15. Administrators, on the other hand, have made tens of thousands more in Lawrence over the past decade.

The comparison highlights how a district like Baldwin, which has one of the highest rates of teacher pay as a percentage of administrator pay, can offer teachers similar amounts, and even higher wages in some cases, than a district with much higher enrollment like Lawrence. 

“When you have a larger district, you are going to have a lot more power to allocate whatever budget you have,” said Lena Batt, a professor for the University of Kansas’ Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. 

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

Although comparing districts doesn’t show the full picture of complicated school budgeting processes, they show how Lawrence’s larger-than-average pay gap between administrators and teachers contributes to real differences in pay for staff of different categories from district to district. 

Teachers in Lawrence for years could have shifted to similar districts for bumps in pay ranging from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars. 

For many years, average teacher pay in several of the districts that are geographically closest to Lawrence was on par with pay here, though those districts have much smaller enrollments.

Click here to open this chart in a new tab.

But work by teachers unions, the school board, district administration and community members have helped move teacher pay closer to other districts and shrink the pay gap between administrators and teachers. 

Moving forward, Reber said there is a simple rule he thinks the district can follow. 

“The best practice is if you want to attract and retain teachers, then listen to teachers.”

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters


Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

More from this series:

Lawrence teacher pay stagnated near the bottom compared to similar districts as admin pay rose and fell.

Share this post or save for later

Lawrence teachers spent years with wages near the bottom compared to similar sized school districts, along with large pay gaps relative to administrators. But recent efforts to raise teacher wages have helped teacher salaries move closer to other districts.

Latest Lawrence news:

MORE …

Previous Article

Easter Egg Roll with Dole draws hundreds of Lawrence community members

Next Article

Hosting football games at Sporting Kansas City’s stadium will cost KU Athletics more than $200K