Education

Wichita teachers vote to approve tentative contract

“It passed, but make no mistake about it: Teachers aren’t happy,” Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita union, said of the tentative contract approved Friday.
“It passed, but make no mistake about it: Teachers aren’t happy,” Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita union, said of the tentative contract approved Friday.

Wichita teachers have approved a tentative contract that includes a one-year salary freeze and cuts the school year from 190 to 188 days, union officials announced Friday.

Of the 2,762 votes returned to the United Teachers of Wichita office Friday afternoon, about 60 percent voted to accept the contract, said union president Steve Wentz.

“It passed, but make no mistake about it: Teachers aren’t happy,” Wentz said.

“We’re aware of what’s going on in Topeka and the funding issues. But there’s things here, particularly workload, that need to be addressed at the district level.”

The Wichita school board likely will vote on the agreement at its Aug. 24 meeting.

District and union officials announced terms of the tentative contract last month. They include:

▪ Higher health premiums for employees or their spouses who use tobacco products. The monthly premium for tobacco users would increase from $50 to $100.

▪ Higher health premiums for teachers whose spouses have access to employer-sponsored health insurance but choose to use the district’s health plan. Premiums for those spouses would double, from $100 to $200 a month.

▪ A new clause stating that “a teacher’s absence from any staff meeting should be the exception rather than the rule.” If a teacher misses a staff meeting, he or she is required to contact the principal to get information from the meeting, the contract says.

▪ The formation of a work group to study changes to the teacher evaluation process. The six-member group will be made up of three people appointed by superintendent John Allison and three appointed by the UTW leadership.

Last month, the school board revised the 2015-16 school calendar to add two days off for students on Sept. 8 and Jan. 15. If the contract is ratified, teachers also will get those days off with no reduction in pay.

In a statement issued Friday by the local union, Wentz said the agreement freezes teacher salaries for the fifth time in eight years. In addition, it denies teachers who have attained more college hours or higher-level degrees the corresponding salary increase.

“Yet, they will begin payment on their student loans, which will result in a pay decrease,” Wentz said. “In essence, they are being punished for improving themselves.”

Wentz added that a “lack of enthusiasm for the agreement” is due to continuing demands on teachers’ time.

“Teachers spend an incredible amount of time doing school work (on) evenings and weekends,” he said. “This is time away from their families. It has to change.”

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

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