Wichita teachers, school district to start contract talks

04/21/2013 5:32 PM

04/21/2013 5:33 PM

Wichita teachers and district leaders will head to the bargaining table Tuesday with little information about next year’s budget or how it could affect teacher pay.

“We don’t know what the Legislature is going to do, but we can be pretty sure there will be no new money,” said school board president Lynn Rogers. “We’re going on that assumption.”

“The big thing on compensation is, it’s just way too early to even look at it until we see what the state does.”

District leaders have not made a proposal on teacher salaries, but their initial proposal suggests freezing increases based on teachers’ years of experience or additional education, known as steps and tracks. The proposal also suggests possible furloughs if education funding is cut.

Officials with United Teachers of Wichita, which represents the district’s 4,000 teachers, said their initial proposal for next year’s contract also assumes state funding will not increase. They have proposed eliminating four inservice days, when students aren’t in school but teachers are paid to attend professional development activities.

They also plan to fight any district proposal that would increase teachers’ workload, such as requiring more detailed lesson plans or more frequent contact with parents.

“The workload is just crushing, and that’s one of the things where we feel we need to have something done,” said Greg Jones, lead negotiator for the union.

“If you’re not going to pay the teachers (more), then … we need to talk about the growing list of requirements and demands on their time.”

Starting salary for a Wichita teacher is $38,378, according to district officials. The average annual salary is $47,872.

A new contract is set to begin Aug. 1.

The union is asking for more planning time, a peer consultant for every first-year teacher, increasing severance pay, limiting staff meetings and giving teachers keys to the outside doors of school buildings.

Tom Powell, general counsel for the district, once again will lead the school board’s negotiation team.

The district has proposed electronic monitoring of special education classrooms, testing employees for tobacco use, requiring teachers to report grades electronically every week and requiring them to contact each student’s parent at least once each grading period.

“Parents are asking for that information on the website. They want to keep track of what’s going on, and when teachers don’t do it, it makes it really difficult,” said Rogers, the board president.

“It does not engage parents, and we’ve got to have parents as part of that equation.”

This year’s contract talks also could include details of new teacher evaluations and changes related to a waiver from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Last year, representatives for the district and the teachers union declared an impasse after several weeks of negotiation sessions that Powell called “adversarial.” Teachers rallied outside school board meetings, saying they wanted better working conditions and an end to a four-year salary freeze.

Last August, board members approved a contract that amounted to a 4 percent increase in salary, benefits and reduced work time, at a cost of about $8.6 million.

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