Demonstration in support of teachers planned ahead of Shawnee Mission school board meeting

Shawnee Mission teachers packed the board chambers in October to lobby for a new contract after negotiations broke down earlier this fall.

With little visible movement toward an agreement for a contract for the 2019-20 school year, a group of Shawnee Mission teachers have organized a demonstration of solidarity tonight ahead of the board of education meeting.

Teachers and supporters will gather outside the Center for Academic Achievement tonight at 5:15 p.m. wearing red and holding signs arguing for better pay and working conditions.

It’s the third board meeting in a row that teachers have organized a show of force before the board and administration. Teachers clad in red have packed the board room at each meeting since mid-October, after a failure to reach an agreement on a contract resulted in negotiations moving to a state-mandated “fact finding” phase. At the previous two meetings, teachers have used the public comment portion of the agenda to make the case for a more significant raise than the administration has offered, and to ask for reduced class sizes and more planning time.

Board president comments on status of negotiations

Board of Education President Brad Stratton.

Meanwhile, the board of education on Thursday distributed its first substantial statement on the status of negotiations since the “fact finding” process began.

Board President Brad Stratton sent the following message to patrons via email:

Dear Community,

We are writing to provide you an update on the status of district negotiations with the National Education Association Shawnee Mission (NEASM) on a teachers’ contract for the 2019-20 school year. We are limited by law in terms of what we can say, but it is important the community know that the Board of Education and district administration values our teachers, and is committed to coming to final agreement with the teacher’s bargaining unit and continuing to work together collaboratively towards the goals outlined in the district strategic plan.

What is the status of negotiations?

State law outlines process. The Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) works together with the National Education Association Shawnee Mission (NEASM) to negotiate a contract for all employees in the certified bargaining unit. Negotiations of contracts for certified school employees are governed by the Professional Negotiations Act – K.S.A. 72-2218 et seq. Negotiations for that contract began last spring.

Mediation. Currently, the contract for the 2019-20 school year has yet to be completed. When the two parties were unable to come to agreement, NEASM declared that negotiations were at impasse in July 2019. When impasse is declared, the two parties go to “mediation” and the Department of Labor assigns a mediator, who works with each party, in order to help the parties come to agreement. In September 2019, SMSD and NEASM participated in mediation sessions. Ultimately, mediation was unsuccessful in helping the two parties come to agreement.

Fact finding. The next step in the process is to go to “Fact Finding.” The two parties work together to choose a fact finder, who will set a time and place for a fact-finding hearing. During that hearing, the fact finder will take testimony from the district and the union, examine documents and ask questions of witnesses. Once the hearing is complete, the fact finder will issue a report and recommendations to the two parties. The district and the union are currently in the fact finding stage.

One final opportunity to negotiate. Once the fact-finding report has been issued, the district and the union will have one final opportunity to negotiate a contract. If that effort is unsuccessful, the Board of Education will be responsible for determining the terms of the final contract for teachers for the 2019-20 school year. Once a final contract has been determined, teachers who have worked for the district for more than one year will have the option of accepting the contract for the 2019-20 school, working under the terms of the 2018-19 contract, or resigning without penalty.

How did the district and the union arrive at this point?

2006 – The State agreed to restore $500+ million to schools, then the Great Recession hit. The roots of the current conflict can be traced back to the Great Recession, which began during the 2007-08 school year. Funding at that time was governed by terms of the Montoy school finance lawsuit, filed by school districts to remedy a decade of unconstitutionally low school funding and agreed to by the Kansas Legislature. Terms of the Montoy settlement restored hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts across the state of Kansas, beginning in 2005-06. Three years later, the state went back on the commitments it made to settle the Montoy lawsuit.

2009 – Kansas made deep cuts to schools following recession and tax policy changes. During the 2008-09 school year, the legislature essentially breached the Montoy settlement agreement and dramatically reduced state aid, mid-school year. The deep education cuts, first triggered by the Recession, were then made permanent by Kansas tax policy changes. SMSD was forced to cut $30 million from the district budget. In 2010, a group of school districts filed another lawsuit against the state, in a case that became known as the Gannon school funding lawsuit. After several hearings at both the District Court and the Kansas Supreme Court, school funding levels in Kansas were again declared inadequate by hundreds of millions of dollars. In April of 2018, the Kansas legislature began debate on the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act.

2018 SMSD Unmet budgetary needs. At that time, the Shawnee Mission School District released a growing list of unmet budgetary needs totaling $15,785,009, identifying where state aid was falling short for our district. This list included adjusting the schedule for high school teachers from six classes to five ($2,930,923), hiring additional social workers ($702,767), counselors and other personnel, and a pay increase for all staff.

2018 – State legislators partially fix state funding as obligated by Kansas constitution.  Back in Topeka, legislators debated amendments to a school funding formula the Court had yet to approve, including fully reimbursing districts for mandated special education costs. These amendments would have brought SMSD an additional $15,080,025 if they had passed, just shy of the amount the district needed to cover identified unmet needs in the district. In the spring of 2018, a revised formula (without the additional amendments) was sent to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled that while the formula met requirements for equity, it did not meet adequacy requirements, and because it failed to include an inflation factor.

2019 – State legislators finally agree to four-year fix, from 2019 to 2023. In 2019, the legislature passed the final piece of legislation to resolve the lawsuit, which adjusted for school funding inflation over a four-year period. The bill was signed into law by Governor Kelly on April 6, 2019, and the district projects to have an additional $9,760,005 available for the 2019-20 school year, $6 million less than the amount the district anticipated needing in 2018.

In June 2019, the Court ruled that the phased-in inflation funding plan was constitutional. Districts will not be fully restored to adequate funding levels until 2023. The estimated increase to SMSD for 2020-2021 school year is just under $3 million.

How has the $9,760,005 that is available to the district been allocated?

One of the primary questions we have received concerning the negotiation and budgeting process is: Where the District has directed the additional funding? The most succinct and clear presentation of the projected breakdown was provided on May 13, 2019. It detailed the following anticipated additional expenditures:

  1. teacher compensation: professional growth column movement at $500,000;
  2. teacher compensation: additional employees purchasing health insurance with a district match expense of $675,154;
  3. buses: contractually obligated additional increases to transportation $346,576;
  4. electricity: contractually obligated utility rate increases $1,209,674;
  5. resources: increased expenditures for supplies and services $1,484,519; and
  6. teacher workload: 28.44 additional full-time employee positions $1,673,450.

Additional staff. The additional staff include 13.75 new special education staff positions, two additional social workers (helping the district move towards having a full time social worker for each building), shifting 9.4 Title I employees into operational funds in order to cover the loss of $1 million dollars in Title I funding this year, along with adding a Project Finish program coordinator, fine arts curriculum coordinators, and additional preschool care providers. (Part of the loss of Title I funding was offset by $680,000 in cuts to upper-level administration, including eliminating an assistant superintendent position for the 2019-20 school and reducing two additional cabinet-level positions for the 2020-21 school year.)

Available dollars without further cuts to current programs and services. Total additional expenditures detailed in May’s budget presentation equaled $5,889,373, which, along with other budget adjustments, left $5,448,334 unallocated and available for compensation increases for all pay groups. Since the May budget presentation, the Board of Education has voted to provide classified compensation increases of $961,000. In the final offer from the District, the proposal for a one-year contract with NEASM included a total compensation package of $3,916,613.

Hopefully this explanatory information is useful. The Board of Education remains committed to coming to agreement with NEASM on a contract for the 2019-20 school year. Board members serve at the discretion of the community, are unpaid, and value the input of constituents as these issues are worked through.

Brad Stratton, President

Board of Education