Wichita school board OKs teacher contract

The Wichita school board voted to accept a tentative contract, including the first raise for teachers in four years, overwhelmingly approved Monday afternoon by Wichita teachers.

The item drew little further discussion at Monday evening’s Board of Education meeting, despite months of negotiations sometimes described as adversarial between the Wichita school district and the local teacher’s union.

Union officials announced Monday that of the 2,626 votes returned to the United Teachers of Wichita office — about two-thirds of the district’s 4,000 teachers — 88 percent voted to accept the contract. The agreement amounts to a 4 percent increase in salary, benefits and reduced work time, Superintendent John Allison said Monday afternoon. Its price tag – about $8.6 million – has already been factored into the district’s budget.

The agreement was approved as part of the board’s consent agenda.

In an afternoon interview, union president Randy Mousley said teachers “accepted it, but a little grudgingly. … Of course, everyone wishes it could have been more.”

Mousley said the somewhat low turnout on the contract vote shows that teachers are “happy about the 1 percent, steps and tracks, and longevity.

“But they’ve sacrificed a lot and their families have sacrificed a lot in the last four years,” he said. “They’ve kept doing an outstanding job. Test scores have been increasing, and they’ve stayed with it.”

At Monday evening’s school board meeting, Mousley told members that teachers face “some very interesting challenges with the waiver of No Child Left Behind,” referring to a waiver granted last month to Kansas schools by the Department of Education.

In February, Kansas requested flexibility in meeting some of the provision of the act, including its mandate that every student at every school must pass state reading and math assessments by 2014. In its place, the state will implement plans aimed at improving low-performing schools, increasing teacher efficiency and preparing students for college and careers. During a brief presentation Monday, Allison said Wichita schools will consider students’ growth rather than trying to reach an arbitrarily set standard, but that more information on the district’s plans will be forthcoming in September.

More than half of states have received waivers.

“It’s going to take flexibility and looking for solutions,” Mousley said, referring to possible challenges teachers face since the waiver was granted.

Board member Lynn Rogers responded: “I think you’re right. It will be a challenging year, but it will be a positive year.”

District and union officials announced terms of the tentative one-year contract last month. Highlights include:

• A 1 percent increase to the salary schedule

• One step on the salary schedule for years of experience

• Adjustment on the schedule based on additional education, known as tracks

• Teachers would move to the appropriate place on the longevity schedule, but will not receive back pay

• An agreement on professional dress for teachers

• No changes to the employee health plan. As before, employee premiums are waived if they participate in a certain number of wellness activities.

• Converting one teacher in-service day to a classroom work day before school starts in August

• Early dismissal for teachers on end-of-semester and end-of-year grading days if grades are submitted by noon

• Two study committees comprising teachers and administrators — one to focus on professional development and another on teacher evaluations

Also on Monday, board members got their first detailed look at the proposed 2012-2013 budget, which keeps local property tax rate flat – 57.017 mills – and includes the first raise for employees in four years. Allison said the district is asking the board to approve the maximum amount requested — $628 million — with spending set to “focus on the students.” The budget is $22 million higher than last year’s.

About 87 percent of operating costs will be spent in the schools, Allison said; the remainder will pay for “key business functions” and facility maintenance.

Allison said the district has worked to keep costs low at new schools opening this year by reassigning teachers from buildings that were shut down and keeping new staff additions minimal. Transportation costs may also have less of an impact than anticipated, he said.

Allison also noted that state funding increased $58 per student, but that’s still $595 below funding rates in 2008-2009.

“No one is upset by receiving additional funding, but it still puts us far below 08-09 (numbers) with the cuts,” he said.

Board members voted 7-0 to publish the proposed budget. The board will hear public comment on the budget at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 in the North High School lecture hall. It is set to take action after the public hearing.

The deadline to approve the budget is later this month, officials said.

In other action Monday night, the board:

• Unanimously accepted a recommendation to remove six projects from its “Pause and Study” list, including moving forward with the expansion of popular magnet school Bostic Elementary. More than a year ago, district officials put many projects in the district’s $370 million bond issue on hold while they dealt with budget cuts and re-evaluated spending priorities.

In a modified project, Bostic will get six new classrooms – four for a shelter, two for programs – renovate and expand special education and add a secure entry door so visitors would be routed into the school’s office first. The original bond project included the addition of the classrooms only. Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Center, formerly Northeast Magnet High School, will get a new 3,000 sq. ft. multipurpose room and shelter – paid for using FEMA money – instead of art rooms, student support and a library proposed under the original bond project.

The action also eliminated bond projects slated at four elementary schools, which have closed: Bryant, Emerson, Lincoln and Mueller. The move should save about will save about $7 million in bond funds, officials have said.

Allison said the board will revisit the remaining 15 projects still on hold over the next few months.

• Approved the sale of the former Booth Elementary School, 5920 E. Mount Vernon, as part of its consent agenda. The school, which closed in 2003, was auctioned last month. Hope International Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian church, submitted the winning bid, offering $83,000 for the school.

• Discussed redistricting to reflect a 9,574-person increase in the school district since 2000 and ensure equal representation at the ballot box. Data shows that three of the six board districts — Districts 1, 2 and 6 (primarily north, northeast and east Wichita) — have populations above the target per-district number: 54,316; the remaining three (primarily south and west Wichita) are below the target.

Board member Connie Dietz recommended redrawing lines so that each district includes a high school, if unity within the community could be maintained. Currently District 2 does not have a high school within its voting district, she said.

The board is set to consider proposed redistricting maps by late August or early September. Rogers said the board would consider posting the map on the district’s website and notifying those affected when lines are redrawn.

“It would be my desire to move as few people to another district as possible” so residents don’t become disenfranchised, he said.

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