With contract negotiations stalled, teachers lobby Shawnee Mission board, new superintendent

Rising Star Elementary teacher Brian Quick asked new superintendent Mike Fulton to send a signal to teachers that contract negotiations wouldn’t be “business as usual” moving forward.

With negotiations on a contract for the upcoming school year stalled, two Shawnee Mission School District educators on Monday urged the board of education and new Superintendent Mike Fulton to consider granting teachers’ request for a raise.

During the public hearing section of Monday’s board of education meeting — just Fulton’s second since taking over July 2 — Rising Star Elementary teacher Brian Quick directly addressed the new superintendent, saying that teachers would be looking toward contract negotiations as a signal of the administration’s respect and support for instructors.

The National Education Association — Shawnee Mission negotiating team had initially asked for a 2 percent across-the-board raise for 2018-19. When the district administration said it couldn’t commit additional funds to the salary schedule, the teachers came back with a request for a 1 percent raise. The administration said it could not accept that proposal, either. A negotiations meeting July 17 left with the parties at odds over the 1 percent request.

“Fairly or not, Dr. Fulton, you are starting your time right in the middle of these negotiations,” Quick said. “And what happens next will, for the teachers of SMSD, be a big first impression on every teacher in the district long before any meet the super events or building tours. The teachers, we’re very curious: Will we get an email in the next few weeks with an offer that doesn’t keep up with the cost of living, or one that will leave some veteran teachers out? Will we be at an impasse? Imagine just how deflating it will be for teachers if in the first weeks of the new superintendent’s tenure, and the first contract negotiations under this newly constructed board, that we find out our contract negotiations are just business as usual.”

Quick encouraged Fulton and the board to support the teachers’ initial request for a 2 percent raise and step-and-column movement along the salary schedule.

Gary Bailey, a special education teacher at SM North, addressed the board as well, saying he’d been troubled by comments he’d heard from two people in the community suggesting that Shawnee Mission hadn’t respected its teachers in recent years.

SM Northwest representative Patty Mach said she was “sick and tired” of battling with Topeka for K-12 funding, and encouraged district patrons to vote.

“The perception is out there that we don’t treat our teachers well,” Bailey told the board.

Bailey noted that several of his colleagues had left Shawnee Mission in recent years for other districts. While acknowledging that Shawnee Mission pays the highest teacher salaries in the area, Bailey said that better benefits, smaller class sizes and lighter teaching loads made nearby districts like Olathe attractive alternatives.

The 1 percent across-the-board raise would cost the district approximately $1.7 million, and NEA-SM leaders say they believe the district has the money to fund it. Budget figures for 2018-19 presented by district finance head Russell Knapp on Monday showed that Shawnee Mission anticipates having $2,041,530 in surplus operating funds at the end of the year, which would bring the operating fund balance to $16,301,150 next summer.

However, Knapp noted, the district had projected a surplus of $1,446,659 for last school year, but ended up having to dip $1,242,155 into operating balances on account of unexpected expenses. The district also spent $408,415 more in operating funds than it took in during the 2016-17 school year.

No administrative staff members directly addressed the contract negotiations, which are set to resume August 9, at Monday’s meeting, but board member Patty Mach, who represents the SM Northwest area, did comment on them before the board broke for an executive session.

Noting that her son teaches in the district, Mach said she has “seen what a teacher goes through on a first hand basis,” and acknowledged that teachers go out of their way to buy supplies and lunches for students in need with their own money. She said during her time on the board the policy has been to pay teachers “every single bit that we possibly can.”

She then encouraged patrons to participate in the upcoming elections.

“I just really hope and pray that the people of the Shawnee Mission School District, and of Johnson County, and the state of Kansas goes and votes in the primaries coming up and in the general election and…truly let their thoughts be know,” Mach said. “Because quite frankly, and this is my opinion, I am sick and tired of having to battle in Topeka. Teachers are worth it. Our children are worth it.”