Shawnee Mission teachers show up in force to lobby board of education for better pay, conditions

Dozens of SMSD teachers packed the board chambers Monday to make the case for a new contract with better pay and conditions.

Saying their workload and responsibilities have risen significantly over the past decade without a commensurate increase in compensation, a group of Shawnee Mission School District teachers showed up in force Monday to lobby the board of education for a new contract.

Dozens and dozens of SMSD educators clad in red packed the board chambers and applauded loudly as a select few addressed the board during public comment at the first meeting since negotiations between the teachers union and administration entered state-mandated “fact finding” after the parties failed to come to terms. Meanwhile, district officials made a point of addressing specific budgetary issues they say are central to their inability to meet all of the teachers’ desires.

The six speakers who approached the microphone Monday on behalf of the teachers made the case for improved working conditions and better compensation. Several noted the increased workload placed on teachers — particularly at the secondary level — as class sizes have grown and planning time has shrunk.

Teachers applauded Heidi Walker after she addressed the board, lobbying for a new contract and better pay.

Heidi Walker, a science teacher at Hocker Grove Middle School who has three children of her own in the district, illustrated that trend by listing off the differences between teachers’ experience today versus when she arrived at the district in 2005. At that time, she had 14 students in the 5th grade class she taught. She had an hour of planning time each day, and received a stipend to purchase classroom supplies.

Fast forward to today, and she has a total of 172 individual students in her science classes, 50 minutes of planning time and no stipend for supplies. She detailed the responsibilities she was expected to complete in her limited non-class time.

“I need to plan differentiated lessons for student with reading levels as low as 1st grade, fill out student data sheets, plan informative assessments, find additional supplies to teach new next generation science standards, attend IEP meetings, make parent contact, meet with my fellow science teachers, make my room warm and inviting, meet with other content area teachers about students we share, grade student work and respond to emails,” she said. “That is was is required of me in my contract. And right now I do that for 2017 pay while raising a family paying 2019 prices.”

Dawn Donegan, a teacher in the district for two decades, said teachers were not being valued, and that for all of the focus on strategic planning in recent months, many frontline employees were feeling left behind.

“Do you have an action plan to look at how you build morale with all of your employees?” she asked.

District points to data on contingency reserve, rising costs

Superintendent Mike Fulton addressed some of the budget issues that have been central to the negotiations with teachers, saying much of the new money the district is receiving this year has been allocated to items like increased utility fees and supplies.

As a policy, district officials have not directly addressed many of the teachers’ concerns in a public venue out of a desire not to negotiate in public. But they did point to a handful of data points Monday that speak to the budget challenge they have before them.

In remarks early in the meeting, Superintendent Mike Fulton stressed that none of the new funding the district is receiving from the state this year — approximately $9.6 million — is being added to the district’s contingency reserves.

The issue of the contingency fund also came up during the teachers’ remarks, with some suggesting the district consider using some of its reserve funds for teacher pay. A fully funded contingency balance is among the factors taken into consideration by credit rating agencies, which can determine the cost at which the district can borrow money.

The offer on the table from the district when teachers declared impasse in July included a  1% base salary increase and a $45 per teacher per month contribution toward health insurance premiums, a package the district said represented a 3.2% total compensation increase. Teachers said that didn’t go far enough to addressing lingering pay and class size issues, and that the legislature had passed the K-12 formula with the intent of the money being used for teachers.

But, as noted in a budget presentation made at the May 13 board meeting, the district is facing a handful of rising costs for service that have eaten into the new money. For example, utilities for this school year are projected to cost $1.2 million more than last, transportation costs have jumped $346,576, and the hiring of new staff has added $1.7 million to the payroll.

The district projects that reducing secondary teachers’ loads from six sections to five sections would cost a total of $5.1 million. Personnel costs for reducing the class size by two at the elementary level would total an estimated $2.3 million.

Data presented by the administration during a negotiating sessions in late May highlighted data from the Kansas State Department of Education on average pay by district, with Shawnee Mission’s salary schedule continuing to offer the highest pay in the state for teachers. However, teachers this year are currently operating under last year’s contract, which included a one-time stipend for many employees. As such many teachers are getting paid less this year that they were in 2017-18.