Wichita teachers, district return to contract negotiations with 2 percent raise on the table

As Wichita teachers and district leaders return to the bargaining table this week, the teachers union has proposed a 2 percent raise for teachers.

“We were taking into account the difficult times, but we also have to take into account the employees’ needs,” said Greg Jones, lead negotiator for United Teachers of Wichita, which represents the district’s 4,000 teachers.

Union officials had waited to submit the salary proposal until the Kansas Legislature wrapped up its 2013 session.

A long-awaited tax bill approved by both chambers on Sunday keeps funding levels flat for K-12 education. Districts also are bracing for a loss of millions in federal funding for high-poverty schools.

Jones said the union’s proposal is “a recognition of what the Legislature has done to us.”

“But I think it’s also recognizing the increased workload on teachers,” he said. “Somehow we just have to try to find a way to show appreciation for employees as well.”

The school board has proposed a one-time, 1 percent bonus for teachers and moving them along the salary schedule for years of experience or additional education, known as steps and tracks.

The one-time bonus was proposed instead of a raise “because of the uncertainty of future funding from the state Legislature,” district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail.

“The Board unfortunately can’t commit to adding dollars to the salary schedule for future years that the district may not have,” she said. “The board would like to offer more, but under the circumstances, we feel this is a generous offer, given that school funding from the state is not being increased and fixed costs are going up.”

The district has proposed no change to teachers’ health plans even though costs are projected to rise 9 percent, Arensman said.

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.

Last month the board approved a two-year contract between the district and its service workers that freezes salaries. A new clause in that contract would increase pay for service workers “if compensation paid to teachers is increased.”

Union and district officials said Wednesday’s negotiations were productive. The teams are scheduled to resume contract talks Thursday morning.