Education

Southeast High teacher voted new president of United Teachers of Wichita

Steve Wentz, new president of United Teachers of Wichita union
Steve Wentz, new president of United Teachers of Wichita union

Steve Wentz, a social studies teacher at Wichita Southeast High School, will be the next president of United Teachers of Wichita.

Wentz, 55, was voted into office by union members last month. On June 15, he will begin a three-year term at the helm of the union, which represents the district’s 4,000 teachers in contract negotiations and other matters.

“I believe in what the union can do. I also believe the (union) leadership has perhaps lost its focus a little,” Wentz said Thursday. “I’m excited about my new role.”

Wentz defeated union president Randy Mousley, who was running for his second term. In 2012, Mousley was elected to replace previous union president Larry Landwehr, who retired.

According to UTW spokeswoman Deena Burnett, other officers elected were: Kim Howard, vice president; Scott Pittman, treasurer; and Larry Smith, secretary. Members of the at-large executive board are: Gina Brillhart, Tracy Callard, Teralyn Cohn, Dwight Goodman, Ruthanne Harris, Richard Jones, Katie Laske, Charlotte Neugebauer, Pam Rivera and Mark Shultz.

As part of an agreement with the Wichita district, the UTW president and vice president collect their teacher salaries but work full time for the union during their terms. The union reimburses the district for all costs associated with those contracts, including payroll taxes and retirement contributions.

Wentz, who teaches psychology and world history at Southeast, said he thinks educators and public schools are “being dismantled” by state lawmakers, and he plans to speak out on behalf of local teachers.

He added that increased workload is a concern for many teachers.

“The longer you’ve been out of the classroom, the more you lose touch with what’s really happening,” said Wentz, in his 25th year at Southeast. “It’s just been this constant drip-drip-drip (of requirements) added to our workload over time.”

He said he plans to spend as much time as possible visiting schools and classrooms during his term as union president. He also plans to implement a 24-hour turnaround for calls made by teachers to the union office, he said.

“I’ve been very clear that I am open to everyone’s advice and opinions,” Wentz said.

District leaders and union officials are currently negotiating next year’s contract, which is set to begin Aug. 1.

For the second year, both sides have agreed to a process called interest-based bargaining, a strategy designed to be less adversarial than traditional bargaining. As part of the new method, each session is followed by a joint statement about progress rather than comments from either side.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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