Wichita teachers will vote on a proposed contract next month with no recommendation from the local union to either approve or reject it.
“It was the (union) executive board’s opinion that it wasn’t good enough to give a thumbs-up, and it wasn’t poor enough to give a thumbs-down,” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, which represents the district’s 4,000 teachers.
The union’s executive board voted 8-1 to present the tentative contract to teachers with no recommendation, said Wentz, a Southeast High School psychology teacher who began his term as president June 15.
Earlier in June, union board members told teachers via e-mail that they had “major concerns” with the tentative agreement and planned to present it for a vote “with a recommendation that it not be accepted.”
The proposed contract includes a one-year salary freeze and cuts the school year from 190 to 188 days with no loss of pay. It includes higher health care premiums for tobacco users and employees’ spouses who have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. It also proposes a work group to study changes to the teacher evaluation process.
The agreement includes a “reopener” clause for salary negotiations if the Wichita school district receives at least $8 million of new funding for the 2015-16 school year. That seems unlikely after Kansas lawmakers approved a school finance overhaul that froze per-pupil state aid and reduced overall funding for Wichita schools.
It is not clear which days would be dropped from Wichita’s school calendar if teachers ratify the proposed contract. Wentz said he’d prefer the district cut teacher inservice days rather than days when students are in school.
“Taking away those days is not what’s best for students,” he said. “We have 12 inservice days, and I certainly think those should be open to negotiation.”
Last year, teachers overwhelmingly approved a contract that included a 2 percent across-the-board raise. Some teachers also got raises for additional education or years of experience.
It’s unusual for Wichita teachers to vote on a contract without hearing yay or nay from the local union. But the process leading up to this year’s vote was unusual as well: Former UTW president Randy Mousley, who sat on the negotiations team and helped craft the tentative contract deal, recused himself from most union business during the final weeks of his term.
Should teachers reject the proposed contract, Wentz said, the district and union negotiating teams would return to the bargaining table, possibly with a federal mediator.