Wichita teachers will start the school year with their contract in dispute as district and union leaders prepare for what could be a lengthy battle over salary and benefit packages, workload and more.
“We’ve had bleak years before,” said Keith Welty, lead negotiator for United Teachers of Wichita, which represents about 4,200 district employees.
“In terms of bleak financial outlook for educators in Wichita, that’s not new. It’s the accumulation of frustration which is causing … the boiling point to be higher now.”
Contract talks, which began last week, are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
At issue are proposed changes to employee health and dental insurance plans, which union leaders say will cost many teachers $2,000 a year in premiums and even more in deductibles and other costs.
School board members, meanwhile, will get their first detailed look Monday at a proposed budget that cuts about $22 million in programs and expenses to make up for rising costs. The proposed budget does not include a pay increase for teachers.
“There’s no extra wiggle room this year, because we already cut so much,” said school board president Sheril Logan.
“We’re moving into negotiations knowing that we have limited finances. But are there things that we could do for our employees that would be helpful?” she said.
“We’re certainly open to negotiating, and we want to give them the best package we can possibly give them.”
Over the past eight years, declines in state per-pupil funding have translated to salary freezes or nominal raises for Wichita teachers. Since 2009, four contracts have included salary freezes.
The others included increases to the salary schedule or one-time raises of 1 or 2 percent. Welty, the union official, said one such raise – part of the 2014-15 contract – was nearly negated by an increase in mandatory contributions to the state retirement system.
“From the employees’ standpoint, it’s ‘OK, what is going to happen to my bank account?’ ” Welty said. “ ‘It doesn’t matter to me what you say it is. What’s actually happening in my bank account?’ ”
Union leaders last week said the district hasn’t looked closely enough at central-office administration and other areas for potential cost savings, a charge district officials deny.
“We have cut administration, cut administration, cut administration – including this year,” said Logan, the board president. “I think that’s appropriate. I am very comfortable with that.
“But by the same token, you can’t go to zero, or we can’t run our district,” she said. “You get to the point where you can’t cut anymore away from the classroom, and you’ve got to move to the classroom. And that’s kind of where we were this year.”
District spokeswoman Wendy Johnson said the board eliminated or consolidated three principals and two central-office administrative positions – the executive director of curriculum and instruction design and executive coordinator of new teacher induction.
Tiffinie Irving, formerly the executive director of instructional support, is now interim chief academic officer, replacing Denise Seguine, who retired.
According to an Eagle analysis of the district’s salary information, Wichita schools paid out more than $333 million to its nearly 10,000 employees last school year.
The district spent the greatest amounts on employees who worked in core educational areas such as English, math, science and social studies, in addition to para-educators.
The data provided by the district included the base annual salary and the gross salary for every district employee. Some employees have more than one job within the district, but provided data shows their main job title and location.
Here are some of the biggest areas for expenditures on district employees.
▪ 1,043 para-educators: about $23 million
▪ 257 English teachers: about $12.8 million
▪ 263 math teachers: about $12.6 million
▪ 202 science teachers: about $10.3 million
▪ 196 social studies teachers: about $10 million
▪ 94 principals: about $8.3 million
▪ 135 English as a second language teachers: about $7.2 million
▪ 915 substitute teachers: about $6.8 million
▪ 92 assistant principals: about $6.6 million
▪ 437 custodians and supervisors: about $10 million
Data shows that superintendent John Allison, the district’s highest-paid employee, took home significantly more than the $229,408 base salary noted in his contract.
Allison’s gross pay totaled more than $264,000 in 2015-16. Johnson said the additional compensation includes $18,660 in KPERS “service credit” that Allison will receive upon retirement, a perk the school board approved in 2013.
Allison also receives $9,000 a year in car and mileage allowance, $6,000 a year for “professional, civic and incidental expenses” and a $1,080 annual cellphone stipend.
Contract talks delayed
Teachers starting a new school year without a contract is not unusual. Kansas districts typically try to agree on contracts with their teachers’ unions before the year starts but, under state law, have until the following June to do so.
A spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association says uncertainty around school funding – and an eleventh-hour special legislative session to fix inequities in the funding plan – delayed the budget process and postponed contract talks in many districts this year.
“There are districts that have settled, and there are districts that are still ongoing and probably will drag on into the school year,” said Marcus Baltzell, director of communications for the KNEA. “Because there has been such uncertainty, that’s just the nature of it right now.”
Neither the KNEA nor the state Department of Education keep track of how many districts have settled teacher contracts, officials said.
Of the larger suburban districts around Wichita, four – Andover, Maize, Haysville and Valley Center – have contracts. Derby and Goddard still are in negotiations.