Administration, teachers paint different pictures of Shawnee Mission’s financial position at hearing with state fact finder

Henry Cox, center in glasses, listened to testimony from district representatives at a fact finding hearing on the dispute over Shawnee Mission teachers’ contract.

A state-assigned fact finder heard testimony on Thursday from the Shawnee Mission School District administration as well as representatives of the National Education Association – Shawnee Mission on the unresolved labor dispute that has district teachers working without a new contract seven months into the school year.

A capacity crowd made up mostly of teachers packed the board room at the Center of Academic Achievement for the hearing. Superintendent Mike Fulton opened the discussions with brief remarks to Henry Cox, the hearing officer assigned by the Department of Labor, before handing the presentation over to attorney Greg Goheen, who has been retained to work on the district’s behalf on the negotiations dispute.

Superintendent Mike Fulton (at table) delivered brief remarks before handing the presentation over to attorney Greg Goheen (left).

In his presentation, Goheen focused on the financial implications of allocating additional money to the teachers’ salary schedule beyond what the district had offered, saying that it had already dipped into reserves to make ends meet the past three years, and that a failure to maintain at least one month’s worth of expenses in reserves could lead to a credit downgrade. Goheen also noted that the district’s contract proposals included an additional $2.7 million in increases to teacher compensation before factoring in the proposed 1% base salary increase the district has proposed.

In the portion of their presentation devoted to finances, the union’s representatives said that the total portion of the district’s budget allocated to teachers’ salaries has decreased the past three years, from 54.56% in 2017-18 to 52.07% under the current pay structure.

Jay Sharbutt of the NEA team said that increasing the district’s expenditure on teachers to the 54.56% level this year would equate to an additional $6.3 million on teachers’ salaries — more than what the district has estimated it would cost to move secondary teachers from teaching six sections a day to the more traditional five.

NEA-Shawnee Mission Vice President Jill Johnson noted that Olathe and Blue Valley teachers have language in their contracts that set the standard maximum for classes taught at five, provide a guaranteed stipend for teaching more than five classes, and include guaranteed planning time each day.

Teachers clad in red filled the board of education room for the hearing.

Sharbutt also noted that figures the district has presented about Shawnee Mission teachers’ average salary — which is among the highest in the state — tend to include pay individuals get for supplemental contracts to be coaches and activity sponsors.

“Supplementals are second jobs and they should not be included in the average teacher pay,” Sharbutt said. “They are also not available to every staff member.”

Sharbutt also provided an assessment that suggested the district had more than $30 million in unencumbered funds in its accounts that could be allocated to teacher pay. Goheen pushed back on that characterization, again suggesting that it would be irresponsible to use money currently in the bank to fund what would be an ongoing obligation to teacher pay.

“You can’t take a one-time expenditure and fund a future ongoing obligation that requires you to pay year-after-year an increased amount for any kind of service or good,” Goheen said. “It just doesn’t work. You run out of money. It’s not prudent financial planning. It’s not prudent financial responsibility.”

In addition to pay, the parties discussed ongoing concerns about professional development, the make up of building leadership teams, and how to create more uniform disciplinary protocol across the district.

Cox now has two weeks to issue his report, which will include recommendations on how the parties come to terms on a contract. At that point, the administration and the union will have one more chance to jointly agree to a contract. Failing that, the Board of Education will set the terms of a final contract offering for teachers for the 2019-20 school year. Teachers can then accept that offering, continue to work under last year’s contract (as they are now), or resign.

Video of the full hearing provided by the Shawnee Mission School District is below.