District, teachers at stalemate in negotiations, won’t have contract in place as school year begins

Jay Senter - August 10, 2017 8:12 am

Southwick_Negotiating

Negotiators from the Shawnee Mission School District and the local chapter of the National Education Association inched closer to a compensation agreement for teachers Thursday before hitting a wall the parties couldn’t breach, leaving next steps unclear and teachers without a new contract as classes begin tomorrow.

The offer on the table from the teachers at the end of the previous negotiation session last week was for a 5.5 percent base raise across the salary schedule. The district countered that offer at the start of Thursday’s session with a 3.5 percent base increase and an additional $1 million to be distributed to teachers in the form of a one-time stipend.

That package would have provided approximately $8.09 million in increased funding for the district’s teachers.

The negotiating team for the teachers union bristled at that offer, suggesting that stipends were appropriate only when then funding situation was murky for the coming years, and calling it “unacceptable” given the increased revenue the district knew it would be receiving for 2017-18. Shawnee Mission will receive an additional $14.2 million this year in state aid and local option budget proceeds under the funding scheme approved by the legislature earlier this summer. Teachers have received one-time stipends frequently in recent years amid the uncertainty of Kansas K-12 financing, but have received only one base increase since 2010.

“A stipend is for when you have no idea what the funding situation is going to be,” said Ramona Weigel, the Shawnee Mission South teacher who led the salary negotiations for the union. “I don’t think that’s the situation.”

The teachers countered with a proposal that would have included a 5.25 percent base increase, down from earlier proposals for 6.05 and 5.5 percent. After a caucus session of nearly an hour, Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick came back with two proposals: one that would provide a 4.5 percent base increase, but would eliminate a previously-agree-upon $48 per month per employee payment for medical insurance; and one that would provide a 4 percent base increase and keep the medical insurance payment intact.

The total cost of those packages for the 2017-18 school year would be $7.14 and $7.69 million, respectively.

Weigel said she was frustrated that those two proposals provided less funding for teachers than the district’s previous offer, which included the stipend. The teachers eventually offered to settle if the district would agree to a 4.5 percent base increase with the health insurance premiums remaining. District negotiators said they were leery of putting additional money onto the salary schedule because it would create an obligation in the coming years, and they were still not confident about the funding situation in the state.

“The difference is what happens the year after that and the year after that when you put it on the base rather than a stipend, which you rejected,” said attorney Curt Tideman, who sits on the district’s negotiating team.

Southwick said he was concerned with ensuring that the district was able to meet its financial obligations — this year’s bus contract costs around $2 million more than last year’s, and the district will be required to invest in programs targeted as low-performing students — and couldn’t offer more.

“I have to protect the budget for this school district,” he said.

After around three hours of negotiation, the parties said they couldn’t move from their positions, and walked away from the table with next steps murky.

“I really don’t know [what the next steps are],” Southwick told the teachers representatives. “We’re going to focus this next week on making sure we have a really great opening for school, and I trust that you guys are going to do the same thing. I was hoping initially that we’d be able to put something in front of the board [Thursday]. That’s not going to happen.”

The district has a board meeting set for this evening at 7 p.m.

Last year, the parties declared impasse in late July, triggering the involvement of a federal mediator, who brokered last year’s teacher contract, which was finalized in October.

A group supporting teachers hosted a small rally outside the district offices before the negotiating session.
A group supporting teachers hosted a small rally outside the district offices before the negotiating session.

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