Prolonged negotiations between the Shawnee Mission School District’s administration and its teachers reached the end of the line Tuesday with no agreement in place, teachers frustrated, and the board of education preparing to move forward on unilateral adoption of a three-year contract — an unprecedented step teachers said they were prepared to challenge.
If the board of education does unilaterally adopt a contract, teachers would have the option of accepting the terms of that deal, working under last year’s contract, or resigning from their positions without penalty. But representatives of the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission, the union representing the district’s educators, said they aren’t convinced the district has the right to adopt a multi-year contract on its own.
“We’re not sure of the legality of a three-year unilateral contract. According to KNEA legal, we don’t know that’s ever been offered before,” said NEA-Shawnee Mission President Linda Sieck. “They want a three-year contract because that means they don’t have to work with us for three years. In other words, they’re saying go away.”
The district’s spokesman strongly contested that characterization, saying that the district had been eager to work with teachers and that its offers had been made in good faith based on the resources it had available.
“We were very transparent. We put out exactly what we had. We offered everything that we had available to the teachers,” said David Smith, the district’s Chief Communications Officer. “That’s what we did from the very beginning.”
He also said that the administration believes a multi-year agreement is key to giving the administration the space it needs to focus on execution of its strategic plan — a process he said could end up addressing some of the workload issues the teachers have continued to bring up.
“We have not been able to focus on strategic planning. That’s the whole point of what we’re about as an organization,” Smith said. “We’ve got to have the space to be able to focus and concentrate on that.”
Tuesday’s negotiating session
Tuesday’s negotiation session at the Center for Academic Achievement — which came nearly eight months into the school year — was the final step in the state-mandated negotiations process that had fact finder Henry Cox on site to hear oral arguments from both parties earlier this month. Cox issued his report to the parties on Jan. 15, but it was kept confidential until the final negotiation session had taken place.
In the report, which the district posted on its website Tuesday afternoon, Cox agreed with the district that the teachers’ last contract proposal, which called for a 2% base salary increase this year, was “overly aggressive to meet reasonable budget objectives of the District, including deficit spending and the creation of a sub-standard fund balance – and contrary to the overall public interests.”
Cox ultimately recommended that the parties “attempt to negotiate a two-year proposal substantially less than what the Association proposed and relatively, slightly more than the District left on the negotiating table at impasse.”
However, attorney Greg Goheen, who was the only member of the district’s negotiating team at the table for the entirety of the proceedings save for brief opening remarks made by Superintendent Mike Fulton, did not put a new two-year offer on the table at the outset. Instead, he floated a three-year offer. That offer had the same base salary increases for years one and two as had been included in the district’s previous offer — 1% and 1.25% respectively — but included a third year with a 1.5% base salary increase.
Goheen said that offer would have the district dipping into reserves, and that it represented the allocation of approximately 79% of the new money the district is expected to receive from the state to teacher pay.
But the teachers’ negotiating team pushed back, noting that the district’s offer did not include any path toward addressing one of the biggest obstacles toward effectiveness in the secondary classroom: the reduction in teaching load from six sections a day to five, as is standard in every other Johnson County District.
The teachers ultimately countered with a three-year offer that would have added 1.75% to the base salary schedule this year, and 1.5% in years two and three. After a break, Goheen said that the district’s calculations on the proposal suggested it would cost more than $20 million over three years and lead to a budget deficit of nearly $9.5 million. He asked the teachers to reconsider the offer the district had put on the table, but with minor changes related to language on staff meeting scheduling and teacher resignation process.
After caucusing, the teachers came back with a proposal for a 1-year contract that would have included a 1.5% base salary increase, but that took the issue of addressing the secondary teachers’ workload off the table for this year’s contract session.
After a brief break, Goheen returned to the table and said the district would not consider a one-year offer. In the parties’ final interaction, Sieck said that a multi-year unilateral contract “will destroy the relationship with teachers in this district.” Goheen then asked the teachers to confirm that they were rejecting the district’s offer. When they did, Goheen said, “Thank you guys very much,” closed his binder, and left the table.
What comes next
Smith said he expected the board to meet in the near future, likely in executive session, to discuss the parameters of the contract they would move to unilaterally adopt. He said the contract the board puts forth could mirror the offer the administration left on the table, but it could differ. He said there was not a timeline in place for the consideration and adoption of the contract.
Sieck indicated that NEA-Shawnee Mission would be hosting informational meetings with members on the status of their current contracts and what comes next. She also said they would be working with KNEA on a possible challenge to the district’s move toward a multi-year unilateral contract. She also predicted that the end of this school year might see a “mass exodus” of teachers to other districts.
“They are just not interested in our voice,” she said of the administration. “They really aren’t. It is clear in this process, we are management and labor. We are not stakeholders working together. We are not administration and teachers working in the best interest of kids. It has boiled down to we are management and labor.”