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Monday, July 28, 2014

Wichita school district, union clash over duties for teachers

By Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle

The Wichita school district wants to start requiring teachers to write detailed lesson plans, file grades online every week and contact each student’s parent or guardian at least once per grading period.

Representatives for United Teachers of Wichita called the proposals “insulting” and “out of touch” on Wednesday, adding that teachers already work too many hours outside the classroom.

“At some point this district … has to start yelling and screaming about what’s happening to their employees,” said Greg Jones, who is leading contract talks on behalf of the union.

“I understand every parent is concerned about their child, and teachers need to work to keep parents informed. But you can’t forget about another group of kids out there, and that’s … the children of employees.”

During more than four hours of contract negotiations Wednesday, district and union leaders discussed proposals for teacher evaluations, attendance and workload.

Mary Whiteside, the district’s director of human resources, said a district proposal requiring teachers to submit grades online at least weekly and contact parents regularly is an attempt to address parent expectations.

The district’s online Parent Assistant system allows parents to log in from any computer to check students’ grades, assignments and attendance records.

“When you’re four weeks behind in what you have online, then how does that communicate with parents?” Whiteside said.

Tom Powell, the school board’s attorney, said officials sometimes hear from parents who assume their children are doing well in a class, “and all of a sudden they get an F for the semester.”

“They come to us and say, ‘I wish I would have known,’ ” Powell said. “Maybe that’s what we’re trying to address.”

Union leaders said many teachers already are working late hours and weekends to do everything required of them, and adding more isn’t reasonable.

“I don’t know why a teacher would be four weeks behind in their grading, but I think I’d be looking at that one particular person,” said Randy Mousley, president-elect of the local union.

Jones added that teachers should have discretion over whether and how often to contact a student’s parents. Some middle- and high-school teachers have 150 students or more, he said, so even a brief phone call to every parent every grading period could take hours.

“There’s a lot of students whose parents might not need to be called or want to be called,” he said. “Maybe they’re doing fine.”

Whiteside countered that even just once a semester, “Wouldn’t it be great … just to let them know things are going well?”

She added that regularly recording students’ grades online helps teachers at the end of the grading period because, “You hit one button and it’s done.

“I think the more that we can have technology help us to do our job, I think that eliminates part of the stress,” Whiteside said.

The group postponed discussions about teacher pay and other issues that could would affect the district’s budget.

Teachers have asked for a 3 percent raise and a return to raises plus back pay for additional education or experience, known as steps and tracks. District officials have proposed no pay increases.

According to Linda Jones, the district’s chief financial officer, a 1 percent raise for all employees would translate to about $3.2 million, not including steps, retirement or other salary costs that accompany raises.

Greg Jones, the union official, said other elements of the union’s proposal would help teachers but cost the district nothing. They include reducing the number of staff meetings and professional development days and limiting classroom interruptions.

“We have to look for ways to free up teachers and give them a chance to breathe,” he said.

“I think the attitude so often is, ‘This is good for kids,’ so you have to sacrifice your own personal time. … I just can’t stress enough how much of a frustration that is for people.”

 

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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