By Dawn Bormann
The Shawnee Mission School District reached a tentative agreement with its teachers Wednesday night.
The agreement, which still needs to be approved by teachers and the school board, does not include an across-the-board pay raise for all teachers. It means about a third of teachers, according to union officials, will not receive pay increases this year.
Yet after months of back and forth negotiation, the discussion hardly seemed bitter as they came to a close Wednesday. That’s in part, administrators and union officials said, because they all publicly appeared to agree that state funding is largely to blame.
The National Education Association of Shawnee Mission last requested a 1.5 percent increase to the salary schedule. It would have offered salary increases to all teachers. But Shawnee Mission said it simply didn’t have the money to spare this year.
“I don’t know of any other way than to be honest with all of you, look you right in the eye and say that our position is exactly the same,” said Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick as negotiations started again Wednesday. “I have zero latitude to work with you to put any money on the salary scale more than we already have.”
Southwick said state lawmakers have already told the school district to expect more cuts if state revenue continues to fall. As it stands, he said, the district is bracing for those possible cuts by earmarking funds to make sure it doesn’t have to lay-off employees and cut more district programs.
“I want to do the best that I can for the employees without jeopardizing the district,” he said.
He described the negotiations as congenial – a term union representatives didn’t disagree with. That hasn’t always been the case, both sides agreed.
“I do feel that there is a willingness to listen to our issues,” Shawnee Mission NEA President Linda Sieck said. “Time will tell.”
About a dozen teachers attended the meeting to hear the outcome.
The district did make other concessions including agreeing to reimburse teachers with a monthly $50 stipend to cover a monthly health insurance increase that amounts to $52.
Many teachers will still receive pay increases for professional growth advancement and experience, Sieck said. Yet she worried about those dedicated teachers who are frozen on the salary schedule in what the NEA considers a “dead zone.” Several teachers including many long-serving professionals will not be eligible for an increase because they have already taken the highest level of courses necessary to achieve more money for professional academic growth. It concerns NEA officials who point out that Shawnee Mission lost many veterans already from the buyout package.
“Our teachers’ costs have not gone down. Our light bills have not gone down. Our gas bill has not gone down,” Sieck said.
“Our educators are being asked to do more and more and more.”
Sieck said the Shawnee Mission NEA will spend the year gathering data about that extra work then bring that to the negotiating table next year. Teachers will be asked to document how the shortage of substitute teachers is affecting their classrooms when they’re asked to cover extra classes or take on more students. The NEA will also track how often teachers must give up their designated planning time to take on other school activities.
You can find the current salary schedule for SMSD teachers here.