Wichita school board members heard from teachers on Monday – several during the board meeting and about 150 beforehand, rallying outside – who said they want better working conditions and an end to a four-year salary freeze.
“I do truly appreciate hearing that our work as teachers is valued,” Erin Gulick Dresher, an art teacher at Peterson Elementary School, told board members.
“Unfortunately, those compliments and those accolades and even your creative budgeting cannot pay my mortgage or feed my child,” she said. “It is time that you stop just saying how much you value me, and it is time that you start paying how much you value me.”
Contract negotiations between the school district and the union that represents its 4,000 teachers broke down last month. Meetings with a federal mediator have not yielded a contract agreement.
Superintendent John Allison, who has said in past months that the district needs to raise pay to attract and keep qualified teachers, told board members Monday that the coming school year “appears like a better year” budget-wise.
During a brief budget presentation, Allison said the district expects about $25 million in additional funding from various sources, including a $4.2 million increase in the base per-pupil state aid.
Other expected increases in revenue include: $3.9 million in aid for bilingual and at-risk students; $8.2 million more from the local option budget; $6 million in federal aid for special education; and $3 million in savings from retirements and vacancies.
Allison noted, however, that the district expects fixed costs to go up nearly $12.7 million for such things as fuel, technology, utilities and additional staff for bilingual and special-education students.
During Monday’s school board meeting several teachers addressed board members about contract concerns, including a district proposal, floated during contract talks for the past several years, to adopt more specific dress guidelines for teachers.
The current teacher contract states: “Teachers will project a positive professional image while dressing in an appropriate manner as determined by the teacher.”
Charlotte Neugebauer, a teacher who has worked in the district for more than 30 years, said most teachers “expect other teachers to dress professionally, and we are embarrassed by the few who do not.”
She suggested that principals deal one-on-one with teachers who dress inappropriately. She also proposed that any dress code, if approved, include the option for teachers to wear blue jeans.
“Many businesses today have casual Fridays in which jeans are appropriate. Many people even wear jeans to church,” Neugebauer said. “You can wear jeans and look nice. … Please do not let this issue keep teachers from getting a fair contract.”
Board member Lynn Rogers said the district hasn’t proposed any specific measures on blue jeans or other attire. “We’re saying we want to sit down and talk about it,” he said.
“My personal opinion is that the vast majority (of teachers) dress very professionally,” Rogers said.
But “besides what people pay for taxes, the No. 1 complaint I receive from citizens” is about teachers dressing inappropriately, he said.
“There are just a few that can create some terrible things for the image of a professional teacher because of that. … At some point we’re going to have to go to citizens to ask them for tax increases, and … we have to be able to answer some of those questions and concerns and qualms that are out there.”
A new contract for the district’s 4,000 teachers is set to begin Aug. 1.
Starting salary for a Wichita teacher is $37,998 a year, according to district officials. The average annual salary is $47,665.
In other matters Monday, the board unanimously elected Rogers as president for the 2012-13 school year. Board member Jeff Davis was elected vice president.