Shawnee Mission board president addresses questions about process that led to adoption of unilateral 3-year contract

Shawnee Mission Board of Education President Heather Ousley (right) and Vice President Mary Sinclair at the Thursday special meeting. At 10 p.m., the board voted 6-1 to approve a three-year unilateral teachers contract.

In the wake of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education’s 6-1 vote to approve a three-year unilateral contract for teachers that was strongly opposed by the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission, teachers, parents and other patrons have been asking about the process that led to the vote and the rationale for the board taking the action it did. (Note that board members have submitted statements explaining their individual votes at the request of the public education advocacy group Education First Shawnee Mission).

On Sunday, the Shawnee Mission Post sent a list of six questions that summarized the main concerns we’d been hearing from readers to board president Heather Ousley. On Tuesday, Ousley submitted answers on behalf of the board. We’re publishing them in their entirety below:

Why did the board decide to pursue a 3-year unilateral contract instead of a 1-year or a 2-year unilateral contract?

During our first mediation session on September 3, NEA-SM first proposed the idea of a three-year contract. Initially, 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 for the third year were in play, the Board determined that the financial stability of a three-year budget planning process would allow for the phase in of reduced workload in the third year of the contract. Including the third year in the contract was the only way to meet the need to reduce workload for secondary educators (which is estimated to cost $5 million dollars once fully completed) while still providing raises to all educators. It is also important to note that neither party ever put a two-year offer on the table during the final negotiation session.

The NEA-SM made a counter to the last offer put on the table by the administration for a 1-year deal with a 1.5% base salary increase — an offer that would have cost the district about $500,000 more total than what the district had proposed for this year. Why did the board not want to consider that 1-year deal?

To begin, .5% base funding is $622,126.

Salary commitments are not one-time commitments, but rather year over year funding commitments. The framework then, of a .5% funding commitment results in continuous $622,000 obligations. Thus, it’s a $622,000 commitment for this current year, and a $622,000 commitment for next year, etc.

The movement to a 1.5% would have exceeded the funds available this year and would therefore have necessitated spending $622,000 out of the future 20-21 to meet 19-20 commitments. As salary commitments continue annually, it would then have necessitated an immediate $622,000 commitment of funds in 20-21. Thus, moving into 20-21 negotiations, when the restored additional funding with which the District has to negotiate with is only $2.9 million dollars, we would have already spent $1.2 million of that prior to sitting down to the table again in six weeks, leaving only $1.7 million within which the District would have to negotiate. This seems a less than ideal situation, especially considering a step increase alone this year would cost $1.6 million. We’d be heading back to the table with only enough new revenue to pay for a step.

You can view the breakdowns of the various components of the compensation increases from the District’s initial one-year offer in the chart below, keeping in mind that while the expense is calculated for one year, it is an expense that continues every year:

  • 1% Base: $1,244,253
  • 1.31% Step: $1,626,744
  • .43% Column Movement: $500,000
  • .47% Individual Health Insurance: $545,616 (The Board will contribute an additional $45 per month towards individual health insurance bringing the total to $694 per month or $644 per month if the employee does not participate in health screening).
  • Total Cost: $3,916,613

Total Compensation Package Increase: 3.22%

As indicated in the answer above, our negotiations up until that point in the final negotiation session had been for a three-year deal. Further, with a one-year contract, there would be no progress in addressing what was emphasized as the most important issue: reducing the workload for secondary teachers.

The only path forward to address secondary teacher workloads, while maintaining the ability to provide all staff compensation increases, was a stable finance plan over the next two years (as the first year of the contract is more than half-way completed).

The fact finder’s report 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.” After the report came out, the district never put a new two-year offer on the table, and never changed the base salary offers it had made for the coming two years. Why did the district decide against pursuing a path that would have followed the fact finder’s recommendations?

The final contract did track the Fact Finder’s report of reaching a 1.5% salary increase, but as the Fact Finder recommended paying for the 1.5% increase in the second year by using funds anticipated in the third year, the District would have been spending future funding without the budget stability to begin phasing in workload reductions. The key to this was that once third year dollars were on the table to be spent in the second year, the District was willing to meet NEA-SM’s proposal for the security of a three-year commitment.

Attorney Greg Goheen represented the district in its final negotiating session with the NEA-Shawnee Mission.

The only person at the negotiating table for the district for the vast majority of the final negotiating session was Greg Goheen, who had not taken part in earlier negotiating sessions. Why did the board decide to have Mr. Goheen be its lone representative at the table for that final session? Why weren’t the administrators who had taken part in previous negotiating sessions at the table as well?

Fact Finding, up to and including the final negotiation session, is a legal proceeding between the Board and NEA-SM. Mr. Goheen is counsel for the Board, and directly represents the Board as a legal entity in legal proceedings.

Why did the board of education hold discussions about the unilateral contract in executive session? (There was some discussion that when the district walked away from the table on Tuesday, the negotiations process was officially complete. As such, the KOMA exemption for negotiations would not have applied).

The Board of Education did not meet after the negotiation session on Tuesday, until the special meeting on Thursday evening. The Executive Session on Thursday was our first opportunity to talk about what happened on Tuesday, and as a body, decide what our next steps would be. In the chance that an agreement by the Board had not been reached, we would have remained in the negotiation process, and KOMA still applied.

To be honest, had we not spent four hours deliberating as a body, we would not have committed due diligence, and I’m certain the criticism would have then been we simply accepted whatever was crafted for us by others.

NEA-SM’s desire to move to a 5:7 workload for secondary teachers dominated the final part of the negotiations process. With a three-year unilateral contract, they won’t have the ability to actively negotiate with the administration on that issue until 2022. How can secondary teachers be assured that the district will work to address this issue?

The Board of Education made a commitment to address the issue of secondary workload both in the resolution that was passed, as well as in the contract itself. While this community concern was already in our Strategic Plan, and work is on-going on various aspects that need to be in place in order to be able to address the issue, we have now made a formal commitment. As the Board takes action to implement the contract, the workload reductions will occur. Dr. Fulton has pledged publicly and to the Board to laying out the strategy for our community on the details of how this is to be done by June of 2020, and the expanded parameters and secured budgeting of the next two years of the contract will allow it to be phased in beginning in the 21-22 school year.