Wichita school district, service workers reach tentative contract deal

07/03/2012 5:00 AM

07/03/2012 3:58 PM

A tentative contract agreement between the Wichita school district and its service workers includes the first salary increase in four years, district officials said Monday.

The tentative one-year agreement with the Service Employees International Union Local 513 includes a 3.5 percent increase to the salary schedule, as well as raises for additional education, licenses or certificates. It would continue salary freezes for years of experience or service.

The union’s bargaining unit includes about 1,800 classified school district employees, including custodians, clerical staff, paraprofessionals and food service employees. But the contract it negotiates sets a pattern for another 1,000 employees – basically, any district employee who is not a teacher or administrator.

Union members are scheduled to vote on the tentative agreement July 14.

“We are appreciative of the cooperative spirit between the Board of Education and SEIU as we have moved through this negotiation session,” said Mary Whiteside, chief negotiator for the Wichita Board of Education, in a written statement.

“This agreement demonstrates that we value the work of all of our employees and we wanted to compensate them for the hard work they do for our students.”

Like Wichita teachers, classified employees have gone without raises since 2008. Negotiations are ongoing between the district and the local teachers union.

The tentative agreement with service employees is estimated to cost the district about $2.8 million in additional salaries and benefits, district officials said Tuesday.

Earlier this year, officials said a 3 percent raise for teachers – without back pay or raises for additional education or experience, known as steps and tracks – would cost about $7.2 million.

The tentative agreement with service employees would not increase health insurance premiums, which are waived if employees participate in a certain number of wellness activities.

The agreement also would add specific details to a “professional dress philosophy” adopted last year.

Current guidelines do not allow clothing that promotes or displays tobacco products, alcohol, drugs, sexually explicit or racially derogatory language, or gang references. The policy also forbids clothing that displays the midriff or underwear, low-cut tops, tank tops, flip-flops, sweat pants or sleepwear.

Additions in the tentative agreement spell out more detailed “appropriate professional dress” for males and females.

According to the new document, “appropriate professional dress” for women would include tops, blouses, collared shirts, sweaters or jackets. Pants could include slacks, trousers, capri pants or dress shorts. Dresses, skirts or dress shorts should be no shorter than 3 inches above the knee.

Recommended dress for men includes buttoned or collared shirts, sweaters or turtlenecks and dress slacks or business casual pants. For both men and women, all pants “should be free from holes and rips and should be worn at the natural waistline.”

Employees who wear uniforms or other clothing appropriate to their jobs, such as custodians, would continue to do so.

Professional dress has been an issue in teacher contract negotiations for the past several years.

The current teacher contract states: “Teachers will project a positive professional image while dressing in an appropriate manner as determined by the teacher.”

Harold Schlechtweg, chief negotiator for the service employees union, said in a district-issued news release that he was thankful for the teams’ “ability to work together to come up with an agreement, even in these tough economic times.”

“We know we have some rough financial situations ahead of us and we are willing to do our share,” he said.

Contract negotiations between the district and the union representing more than 4,000 teachers are at a standstill after three months of talks and two days of closed-door sessions with a federal mediator.

Teachers had been seeking a 3 percent salary increase and a return to raises — plus back pay — for additional education or experience. They also want fewer work hours outside the classroom and more teacher input on professional development.

District officials had proposed freezing teacher pay at 2008 levels. They also want to require more detailed lesson plans, dress guidelines, regular contact with each student’s parent or guardian, and new disciplinary actions for teachers who are chronically absent.

A group of teachers plans to rally outside North High School again on Monday, before the next school board meeting, in a demonstration of support for educators.

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