‘I demand respect from my school board’: Teachers keep up pressure on Shawnee Mission administration for new contract

Amanda Coffman told the board that she was having a difficult time reconciling the public statements of appreciation for teachers with the failure to provide a new contract. Video still credit Shawnee Mission School District.

For the second time in as many meetings, members of the National Education Association – Shawnee Mission packed the board of education chambers Monday to air frustrations with the lack of a new contract for district teachers more than two months after the start of classes for the current school year.

Dozens of educators clad in red filled the room at the Center of Academic Achievement and gave standing ovations to colleagues who approached the lectern during public comment to address members of the board, sharing their discontent with increased workload, large class sizes and lack of a significant raise.

Negotiations between the administration and the teachers union went to impasse in July after teachers rejected the district’s offer of a new contract that would have included a 1% base salary increase and a $45 per teacher per month contribution toward health insurance premiums in addition to step-and-column movement along the salary schedule. In late September, the parties were forced to move into a state-mandated “fact finding” process after mediated negotiations failed to yield an agreement. Prior to that, the district had put a two year contract proposal on the table that it said would have represented a 3.22% total compensation package increase in year one and a 3.65% compensation package increase in year two. Union negotiators rejected that package, saying it failed to allocate enough of the new money the district will be receiving under the K-12 funding formula approved by the legislature last session toward teacher pay.

Administrators have said that rising costs for things like utilities and transportation as well as the need for new staff have eaten into much of the projected $9.6 million in new money the district is receiving this year.

Following the breakdown of negotiations in September, teachers showed up in force at the Oct. 14 board meeting to lobby for a new contract. They kept up the pressure at Monday’s meeting.

Jori Nelson, an elementary teacher with more than a dozen years in the district, was first to address the board, and said that teachers had continued to go above-and-beyond their contractual responsibilities even as they saw their workloads increase in recent years.

“We continue to do more with less — less time, less money, less resources,” she said. “You’ve stated the district’s utilities, transportation, supply costs and insurance have all gone up. As have all of ours.”

A member of the Prairie Village city council, Nelson said she was acutely aware of the challenge governing bodies face each year in setting a balanced budget. She said that in Prairie Village, the city had prioritized staff pay and morale in hopes of retaining great employees.

“Your budget should reflect your priorities. Which should be to support teachers and staff first,” Nelson said. “Teachers seem to be an afterthought.”

Teacher Amanda Coffman told the board that expressions of appreciation for the hard work of teachers weren’t enough to show teachers the respect their profession deserves. The increased workload and lack of significant increased compensation did not show an understanding of the value of career educators, she said.

“I will treasure the appreciation I get from my students and their families,” she said. “But I demand respect from my school board.”

A total of 10 speakers addressed the board Monday expressing their support for the district’s teachers and their position. No members of the board addressed the comments in any detail, though board president Brad Stratton did acknowledge them as public comment concluded.

“We appreciate the comments and they are certainly heard,” Stratton said.

The board of education went into executive session to discuss negotiations at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting.

Superintendent Mike Fulton was not present at Monday’s meeting as he attended to family issues following the passing of his mother-in-law. Deputy Superintendent Rick Atha delivered the superintendent’s report.