A Wichita school board member says demands for teacher raises could mean fewer new textbooks, classroom aides and other supports teachers say they need.
Betty Arnold, who recently lost her re-election bid, published a Facebook post this week in which she criticized the local teachers union, saying its focus on salaries doesn’t reflect what she hears from teachers.
“When the union demands all the money as pay with no consideration offered to programs for our students … something is wrong and it is our responsibility to stand up for our children,” Arnold wrote.
Wichita teachers on Tuesday approved a tentative contract that will raise pay by nearly 4 percent and reinstate shorter school days and a longer school year. The school board is expected to approve the contract Friday.
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In an interview Wednesday, Arnold said she supports the proposed contract but is “not happy with the process that’s being employed here.”
She said United Teachers of Wichita’s focus on pay during negotiations doesn’t reflect what she heard from employees during recent listening sessions.
“I genuinely believe teachers want more than a raise. We can’t just keep throwing money at them and thinking they’re going to keep on working as hard as they work with no help,” Arnold said.
Steve Wentz, the union president, said the proposed raise for teachers in this year’s contract is reasonable and overdue.
“The assertion that the package teachers got would result in cuts to programs or in the district not being able to follow through on behavior issues – that is just not accurate, in my opinion,” Wentz said.
“There are tools the district has that would cost them nothing but can be implemented to deal with behavior issues,” he said.
Union contract proposals usually include requests related to workload and other non-salary areas. This year, UTW proposed reducing professional development time, increasing planning time, negotiating changes to the teacher evaluation process, and prohibiting before- or after-school meetings on election days.
The union also proposed a new clause in the contract requiring that the district “provide a safe workplace that protects teachers from physical and emotional violence, sexual harassment, and other abuse by students.”
The district’s initial offer to teachers this year included a 3 percent raise. Teachers asked for 10 percent. The proposed contract features a 3.95 percent raise, along with some increases for additional experience and education.
Arnold said Wednesday that she supports higher pay for teachers but thinks any contract proposal should focus on classroom supports in addition to raises.
“They need more than just a raise, that is my point,” she said. “And UTW feels like, ‘OK, well, we’ll just give them a raise.’ … It doesn’t do you any good if your working conditions are not improved and you get a raise.”
Arnold’s Facebook post, published after final election results confirmed Ben Blankley’s win, thanked community members for their “trust and support” over the past decade.
It also bemoaned a racial gap in suspension and expulsion rates in local schools. Data shows that black students in Wichita are disciplined at higher rates than their white peers, a trend that mirrors racial disparities throughout the country.
“I am asking as a community that we continue to stand together and make sure we do not return to the status of inequality marked by segregation,” Arnold wrote. “I still believe in public education and I still believe that we can make a difference.”