Wichita teachers and district leaders held their first contract bargaining session this week under a new process intended to make bargaining more amicable.
Both sides agreed to try a strategy called interest-based bargaining – or modified traditional bargaining – in hopes of improving the typical sparring between district negotiators and the United Teachers of Wichita, which represents about 4,200 Wichita teachers.
“Numerous aspects of the process have changed,” district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail.
The public was not notified of Monday’s session, held at the Wichita school district’s downtown administration building. Arensman said the public notice was “inadvertently overlooked.”
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“When the teams realized this fact during the first session, a process was defined so that such an oversight doesn’t occur again,” she said in the e-mail.
Negotiation teams will meet again Thursday and May 16, Arensman said.
As part of the new bargaining method, each session will be followed by a joint statement from Superintendent John Allison and union president Randy Mousley rather than comments from either side.
Arensman said the statement from Monday’s meeting would be released Wednesday morning. Future statements will be issued shortly after the bargaining sessions.
Wichita teachers and district leaders normally begin contract talks in April to start negotiations for the next year’s contract, which is set to begin Aug. 1. Typically, both sides submit proposals that include such issues as teacher pay, benefits, workload and attendance.
Under modified bargaining, the sides begin with a statement of their interests and objectives rather than lists of demands and counter-demands, labor experts say. The teams collect information jointly, analyze where money is being spent contractually and aim for a climate of trust and mutual respect.
It’s unclear which issues will be top priorities for the Wichita union or district leaders this year, but many teachers statewide are upset about recent action by the Kansas Legislature to strip teachers of state-mandated due-process protection.
Gov. Sam Brownback has said the tenure provision gives local districts room to negotiate and ends a statewide mandate for how the issue is handled. That could mean local teachers unions like Wichita’s will seek to add a due-process provision to next year’s contract.