Teams negotiating a new contract for Wichita teachers have tentatively agreed to changes that would ban beach-style flip-flops in the classroom.
"There were some tweaks to the dress code (for teachers) that I personally don't think are a big deal," said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita.
"One of those is flip-flops — and we're talking about the $2 beach-style sandals."
Representatives for the district and teachers union agreed Thursday to proposed changes that would prohibit flip-flops. Other proposed changes would prohibit camisole tops and would require tunic-length tops to be worn with leggings.
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The teams did not work out exact wording for the changes. None of the proposals would go into effect until a contract is approved by teachers and the Wichita school board.
Talks began in April on the contract, which is set to go into effect Aug. 1.
Dress guidelines for teachers have long been a point of contention. Prior to 2012, the contract included a single sentence about how teachers should dress: "Teachers will project a positive professional image while dressing in an appropriate manner as determined by the teacher."
Since then, several specific guidelines have been added, including a requirement that teachers' clothing be "modest, neat and clean" and appropriate "for the curriculum being taught and the activity to be engaged in that day."
The current contract prohibits spaghetti-strap, low-cut or midriff-baring tops, too-short bottoms, torn or frayed jeans, and clothing that features large-letter advertising, inappropriate language or drugs or alcohol. The standards apply during teaching days and parent-teacher conferences.
Wentz, whose union represents about 4,200 Wichita teachers and other certified staff, said new guidelines on teacher dress shouldn't be a priority for either side, but that the proposed changes sounded reasonable.
This year's negotiations mark a return to a process called interest-based bargaining after two years of traditional contract talks. Instead of issuing proposals and counter-proposals, the sides begin with a statement of interests and objectives and then work together toward consensus.
Contract talks remain public, open meetings. But as part of the new method, each session is followed by a joint statement rather than comments from each side.
The sessions have yet to address teacher pay, and they likely won't until the Kansas Supreme Court decides whether a legislative fix meets its October order for more appropriate and equitable school funding.
Wichita, the state's largest school district, stands to receive about $19 million more in general state aid this year under a new school finance formula. After fixed-cost increases and a return to a longer academic year, which will cost more for buses, fuel, utilities and substitute teachers, the district expects between $7 and $8 million in added funding.
A 1 percent raise for teachers costs the Wichita district about $3 million, said Susan Willis, chief financial officer for the district.
The teams discussed several other issues Thursday, including teacher in-service days, nonteaching duty days, the school calendar and the Marzano evaluation system. The team tentatively agreed to reduce the number of Marzano elements on teacher evaluations from 23 to 10.