Local public education advocacy group Education First Shawnee Mission has asked members of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education to explain their votes on the three-year unilateral teachers contract that was approved at a special meeting Thursday night.
The group — which had endorsed the majority of the currently seated members in their election campaigns — was strongly critical of the board’s action, saying that they were “deeply disappointed and share our community’s outrage over this entire negotiation process, and particularly the closed-door session that led to a unilateral 3-year contract against the wishes of our teachers and union.”
So far, the group has received statements from board President Heather Ousley, Vice President Mary Sinclair and members Brad Stratton, Laura Guy, Jamie Borgman and Jessica Hembree. We’re posting those responses below and will update this post as other responses come in.
Thank you very much for your questions. I appreciate the chance to explain how the Board came to pass the contract that it did on Thursday evening. The Board negotiated in good faith throughout the bargaining sessions, including accepting a number of the items that the union brought to the table, which were included in the final version.
For example, on the issue of the three-year contract: During our first mediation session on September 3, NEA-SM first proposed the idea of a three-year contract. (At the time, the district was resistant to the idea). Through the second mediation session, the Fact Finding hearing, and the final negotiation session, NEA-SM continued to bring three-year proposals to the table. The district first proposed a two-year proposal during the final mediation session, and moved to the NEA-SM position on a three year proposal during the final negotiation session. We did so in order to be able to achieve the target set by the Fact Finder in his final report of a 1.5% salary increase, which he suggested could be done using funds from the 3rd year. Once the funds from the third year were committed to meet the salary increase target, the Board was then willing to meet NEA-SM’s request for a three-year contract, and also include a commitment to workload adjustments in the 2021-22 school year.
The contract gives 79% of all the new money to teachers, exceeding the 50% guidelines stated by Dale Dennis in the video provided by NEA-SM during Fact Finding. It provides an 11% increase in total compensation over the three years. It provides step and column movement for all three years, which NEA-SM requested. It commits the District to covering health insurance cost increases in years 2 and 3 up to 7.8% (this means if health insurance rates go up next year and the third year, the District is likely covering that rate increase in its entirety, but if the rate is higher than 7.8% there will be some share by employees). It includes a commitment to phase in workload adjustments beginning with the 2021-22 school year, a commitment we’ve made to this community, our teachers, and most importantly, to our students.
We have worked hard to ensure that our contract adheres closely to the report, with the one deviation being the 1.5% increase occurring in the third year, when the money is available to do it, balanced with the inclusion of the workload reduction. We have done what we could to act in good faith and give as much as we could in salary, and provide a path forward to address secondary educators’ concerns that were brought forth repeatedly in our meetings.
I also want to highlight that I think there was significant stress going into Thursday night’s meeting in part because there is a huge amount of risk for a union when a Board issues a unilateral contract. I understand that. This Board did not strip a single contract provision protecting educator or union rights, including, of course, due process. There was never a desire on our part to do so, but I understand the nerves, and based on the communications I received, at least for some those nerves, as well as concerns that the contract would not include any raise or other benefits, helped spur the campaign to instruct the Board to not approve the unilateral. It is my hope that after reviewing the language in the contract, individuals can be reassured that this is, actually, a really good deal. It perhaps could have been, under less contentious circumstances, a deal championed by both teams as a fantastic outcome.
I wouldn’t have signed it if I didn’t truly believe that. The problem with bargaining restrictions that limit your ability to speak is that people forget what your voice sounds like, and they doubt you.
I am not responding on social media at this time. The people who care about me have insisted that I not even enter that space. My plan is to return within a week, after people have had a chance to read what was adopted and the resolution that went with it. In addition, as Board President, I now speak with the legal authority of the Board, so every comment I make, even if it is just from me in a casual setting, carries a very large weight. I don’t take that lightly.
Doing the right thing sometimes is a hard thing. But I have had other legal colleagues reach out, who have read the documents, and have told me they too believe this was likely the best possible outcome given the years the funding crises has gone on.
Please know how grateful we as a board are for the hardworking teachers of our district.
Education First we deeply appreciate your advocacy, and your willingness to continue to be a public voice that demands sufficient funding from the state.
Education First Shawnee Mission, along with many in the Shawnee Mission Public School (SMSD) community, have asked why I voted yes on Thursday night. From my vantage point, this vote was a collision of years of frustration, disappointment, anger, exhaustion and a shared passion for education, love of children and family and so much more. And for months, my voice was restricted from responding to growing speculation that further eroded trust within a community we all value. While I cannot hope to speak to all of these issues in this one post, I will focus on the question at hand and keep my many thoughts to a page – or two.
The why, for me, is a two-part question – how did we get here? and what do we need to accomplish? First, SMSD is still digging out from under severe budget cuts triggered in 2009 and then compounded in 2012, which cost our district about $30 million in operating funds (read more here). Decisions made in Topeka during that time continue to impact our schools today. The repeal of the 1992 school finance formula and resulting Block Grant froze funding at unconstitutionally low levels, resulting in a series of consequences that include a loss of federal Title I dollars for the state, despite federal funding increases. In SMSD, this cost us $1.5 million annually for at least two years and added pressure on our state operational funds to retain these educators and shield our students from the effects of the loss in revenue.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that while the court accepted the legislature’s school finance plan, the reality is we will not achieve constitutional levels of funding until 2023. Until then we remain in recovery mode. (KASB, Gannon Decision, 2019). Are we receiving more dollars from the state? Yes. Is it enough to accomplish everything on our priority list today? Far from it.
We will continue to make cuts and to reallocate resources towards our district’s top priorities. The objectives and mission statement of our stakeholder-driven Strategic Plan will guide the necessary decisions ahead, along with the ongoing input of community stakeholders. We have committed to making the informed choices needed to prioritize teacher workload and collaboration time to provide every student the opportunities to make meaningful educational progress. I am aware, however, that SMSD still has schools without a social worker. Our secondary school counselors still have student caseloads far in excess of historical ratios and nowhere close to the 2019 Kansas Bullying Task Force recommendation. State education standards continue to rise as do the expectations for our teachers and principals to demonstrate expertise across a wide variety of societal concerns. The list goes on.
I voted yes on Thursday because this is the best remaining option to compensate teachers and preserve some capacity to adjust teachers’ workload, without jeopardizing our financial standing. The Fact Finding recommendations guided our efforts to develop the unilateral agreement. The detailed contract can be found here. For those patrons who have emailed me out of concern our teachers will receive no compensation under a unilateral agreement, please know:
- The compensation package commits 79% of all new money received from the state to teachers.
- The total compensation increase is 11% over three years.
- Compensation includes teacher’s step and column payment that recognizes continued education and experience, as well as increased health insurance coverage up to 7.8%.
- SMSD teachers will remain among the highest compensated in the state.
- The Board affirms our commitment to begin phasing in adjustments to secondary staff teaching workload beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, with defined fiscal guardrails in place that hold the Kansas legislature accountable to fulfill their agreement.
- Other elements of the contract address retroactive pay, reimbursement and stipends for teachers meeting requirements to offer college prep courses, supplemental pay increases, limits on night-time hours, inclusion of non-discrimination language policy changes and more.
For the first time in a decade, school districts have financial predictability to plan ahead. I cannot overstate the importance of this newly acquired stability and relief from the chaos of bracing for the repeated threat of our school doors being closed each fall.
I’m still me – I have been advocating in Topeka since 2002 for adequate and equitable funding for public education, including competitive teacher compensation, and will continue to do so. I encourage the SMSD community to stay focused on the decisions made by our state legislators. Send our area lawmakers an email and urge them to uphold their commitment to the Gannon school finance agreement.
I am grateful to all the parents, teachers, administrators, staff, and community volunteers who are engaged in bringing our strategic plan to life. I look forward to participating in the work of the district’s new Finance and Facilities Committee. Detailed information about negotiations process can be found at the district website, perhaps start with the SMSD Information Central.
On a personal level, I am relieved to have my voice back. The vote and closure to this part of the process allows the board to convey the value we hold for our teachers and our commitment to the Shawnee Mission Public Schools – each student will have a personalized learning plan that will prepare them for college and careers, with the interpersonal skills they need for life success.
I was a teacher in the Olathe School District in the 1980s and I belonged to NEA. I know firsthand how hard teachers work. I am ready to work with anyone who wants to help us achieve the goals we set in our Strategic Plan. I’m not willing to put the district into financial distress. Many people this week have questioned my intelligence and integrity. I am using both, even at a huge personal cost, to make our district the best in Kansas. I welcome cooperation from anyone else who wants that, too.
Our teachers had been telling us for months that they were tired of working without a contract so we completed the last step in the legal negotiation process and gave them a contract, one that includes a raise for three years in a row plus help with insurance premiums and a commitment to address teacher workload in the 2021-2022 school year with a plan that is financially sustainable. It is an excellent contract.
It was very difficult to keep from speaking to the public about the process as it went along but that is a legal requirement and it honors the process. I know that at times our silence was frustrating for the public, and it was even more frustrating for us. I am thankful to everyone who spent the time reading the briefs sent to the fact finder, watching the hearing, and reading the fact finder’s report to try to get a better understanding of what was happening in negotiations.
Over the last 8 months, the Board and SM NEA followed the legal process for contract negotiations. After exhausting all avenues with no real movement toward a proposal we could agree on, a unilateral contract was the last step of the process. For myself, I could not vote for any proposal that would financially cripple the district. I could not approve the proposal from SM NEA that required us to hire 70 new teachers in order to reduce workload without any idea how we were going to pay for them when the money ran out in year three years. That is reckless, irresponsible and unethical. In my opinion, SM NEA did not propose a plan that was financially sustainable. The Board spent untold hours reading documents, meeting, discussing and brainstorming. In the end, we made the very best offer we could.
Why a 3-year contract? Initially it was SM NEA who proposed a 3-year contract. At first, I did not think it was wise to make a financial commitment that far out because we don’t have any guarantees that the state of Kansas will give us the money we are expecting. And we couldn’t afford to do the 3-year contract SM NEA proposed. But as the Board discussed ideas, I began to see that a financially sustainable 3-year contract would give us and our teachers stability and dependability, enabling all of us to make plans.
The other reason I voted for the 3-year contract is because we already lost a year when we should have and could have been focused on students. We have a lot of work we need to do to meet the goals we set in our Strategic Plan. [sidebar – whenever the Strategic Plan is mentioned in a board meeting, it is met with jeers from some in the audience. I sat on the Steering Committee for 3 days with parents, teachers – including the NEA president – students, administrators and community leaders. We all contributed ideas and wording to the plan. There were many moments when teachers were crafting the exact wording. When we were done, we all signed off on it. The same thing happened in the action groups. A lot of people spent a lot of time coming up with our community Strategic Plan, and now some people dismiss it as something irrelevant or created by top administration. That is a lie and it is incredibly disrespectful to the over 100 people who spent countless hours working on it.] The past 8 months could have been very productive for us as a district. We could have been working together on how to reduce teacher workload in a financially sustainable way or how to reduce the achievement gap or how to create equity in our district or how to meet the social and emotional needs of students or any number of other issues we face. Instead, we have wasted precious time and energy on ongoing negotiations. It’s time to get our focus back on our students.
Thank you to so many of you who reached out to share your concern about teacher contract negotiations. I share your deep disappointment that the district and NEA were unable to reach an agreement. As the mother of one future and two current SMSD students, I am deeply committed to the long-term success of this district. I see firsthand the incredible work our teachers do each and every day.
Last night, I took a hard vote after considerable deliberation with my colleagues. I voted to approve a three-year contract for our teachers that provides an 11% increase in compensation and begins to ease workload concerns. This contract closely follows the recommendations previously made by an independent fact finder. I wish this contract had been developed collaboratively with NEA SM.
As confirmed by an independent fact finder, proposals put forth by NEA would have forced the district to deficit spend in a manner that would compromise the long-term solvency of our district. Furthermore, meeting these proposals would have eroded our ability to make progress on community priorities like social workers in every school and adequate staffing for our special ed students.
While this is certainly not how I hoped to begin my tenure on the SMSD Board, I remain ever committed to this district, its students and its teachers. I believe that having this contract negotiation completed will allow the board and our community to turns its attention to student mental health and racial equity. I look forward to these conversations.
I have read the responses by my fellow board members and I concur with and share their insights, perspectives, analysis and reasons. As for the details as to the explanation of the timeline and chain of events related to the negotiations process, I concur with their outline and explanations as well.
I am proud of the members of our school board. Each of us, as publicly elected volunteers, has committed countless hours reading all the reports and data, attending multitudes of meetings and hearing from and engaging with many members of our community. This decision to vote on a 3-year unilateral contract was not taken lightly which is why we spent so much time working on it. But in the end, I voted “Yes” because I saw the terms of the contract to be fair and prudent based on the tax-payer dollars that are afforded to us by the State and in the best interest of the greater Shawnee Mission community in the long term.
My hope is that when the dust settles and the contract is read and understood, we as a school district community can begin to heal by working together again as a broader community and focusing on the priorities outlined for us in the community’s strategic plan of our school district. This is not about who Shawnee Mission was in the past or even who we are in the present…it is about who we strive to be as a public-school district going forward. “Ad Astra per Aspera”
I voted against the three year unilateral contract. I will let my vote speak for itself. Thank you.