Teachers, Shawnee Mission administration dig in to compensation negotiations with first day of school year near

Dr. Kenny Southwick. (File photo).
Dr. Kenny Southwick. (File photo).

By Natasha Vyhovsky

Negotiating teams from the Shawnee Mission School District and the National Education Association – Shawnee Mission got down to brass tacks Tuesday, broaching the topic of teacher compensation seriously for the first time since discussions about the contract for the coming school year started this spring.

With uncertainty about K-12 school funding given the state supreme court’s consideration of the new funding formula, the district had requested holding off on compensation and benefits discussions until the funding picture for the 2017-18 school year became more clear. On Tuesday, the negotiating teams went back and forth about how much of the increased funding the district will receive next year should be allocated to teacher pay.

The district’s budget for 2017-18 includes an approximate $14.2 million more than what it had last year in its proposed funding plan, about $11 million of which would be a general state aid increase and the rest from the local option budget. Union representatives pressed for about $10 million, or 66 percent, of this increase going toward the teacher salary schedule and the coverage of a health insurance increase, which would be about a 7 percent total increase.

The district countered this request, offering instead an approximate 5 percent package deal, which would include a base salary increase of around a 3.12 percent, an approximate 1.37 percent step raise across the board and a .5 percent increase for medical coverage.

Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick defended the district’s proposal, stating that it not only was within the market value range for salary increases in any industry, but that it put Shawnee Mission at the top of the local districts in terms of pay. In addition, Southwick said that this proposed deal would also allow the district to take care of other issues on its radar.

“It allows us to work on what we know is a 1.5 million dollar deficit that we had this year; it allows us to pay for additional transportation costs; it allows us to have additional dollars that we can spend on the at-risk [students and schools],” he said.

Union representatives told district negotiators they wanted to hold another caucus before determining how to respond to that proposal. The district and teachers union set another negotiating session for next Wednesday, August 9, at 4 p.m.

This means teachers will start working this upcoming school year without a contract in place. Last year, the parties declared impasse after failing to come to terms on teacher pay. A federal mediator was called in to finalize the contract for 2016-17, which included a teacher stipend.

While the session did not settle the exact increase teachers will see in their base salaries and step increases across the board, the parties did agree to remove two steps from the salary schedule, a request by union leaders that was denied last year. The step removal allows teachers to reach their maximum earnings after fewer years in their careers and automatically gives pay increases to dozens of district teachers.

The district also agreed to cover the amount increase in health insurance for employees, which is estimated to be around $48 per person, a total of about $1 million for the district.

Other issues on the docket regarded “specials” teachers – meaning PE, art, music and library media specialists. An agreement made by the parties will prevent these elementary teachers from having more than six class periods in a regular school day and from having combined classes – those with students from more than one homeroom class. The agreement also entails a guaranteed plan period each day for these teachers during the seventh class period.

Representatives from the union said there are specials teachers at some of the schools who have received schedules for next year with seven classes; the administration’s team at the meeting committed to addressing those cases individually. If current staffing, section sizes or other obstacles prevent the six-period cap, the district wants to compensate affected teachers while they work to make any necessary new hires.

While choir teachers are not defined as specials teachers, a separate point made by the union representatives requested adding elementary choir teachers to the section, “elementary supplemental paid positions,” meaning choir teachers could be able to take advantage of a supplement to compensate for work done beyond the contract day.

Following a negotiation session in May that focussed largely on addressing student discipline, the district plans to continue working with committees to have access to a framework or outline for procedures in the very near future, which they can use in trainings with the district’s principals and teachers. The parties agreed to continue working with discipline and did not see a need to include it in contract negotiations.