Shawnee Mission School District to reduce secondary special ed teachers’ workloads

Shawnee Mission CAA sign

It's the latest move by the district to try to address teacher workload concerns, which were a sticking point in contract negotiations two years ago. File photo.

The Shawnee Mission School District has amended a memorandum of understanding between the district and National Education Association-Shawnee Mission aimed at addressing workload concerns for secondary special education teachers.

Why it matters: It’s the latest attempt by the district to address lingering workload issues for middle and high school teachers, which was a major sticking point during contentious teacher contract negotiations two years ago.

The details: A previously approved $1.3 million allocation allows the district to hire 17 1/2 new full-time employees to reduce special education workloads, said Michael Schumacher, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources.

The district special education department will now aim to do the following in an effort to reduce special education teachers’ workload, as outlined in board documents and the amended memorandum:

  • A reduction of special ed teacher caseloads with a cap of 15 students per teacher, which is on track to take effect for the 2022-2023 school year.
  • Four days each school year dedicated to special ed teachers being able to focus on completing necessary paperwork.
  • Special ed coordinators meet “monthly in buildings to facilitate professional development and support.”
  • Principals schedule secondary special ed teachers a “consult hour” during a student support hour (as caseload and master schedule allow).
  • The department uses instructional aides for service delivery, considers additional paperwork completion days and provides “compensation at the sub rate to teachers who fill-in” when subs are unavailable.

The bigger picture: District and union representatives have spent the better part of the last two years trying to come to a compromise that addresses teachers’ concerns.

  • Teachers’ primary issue has been then number of periods they teach in a school day.

Before amending the memorandum of understanding specifically for special education teachers, the district has already agreed to put roughly $5 million into hiring more secondary classroom teachers.

  • That will allow the district to implement a new schedule in which middle and high school teachers teach five out of seven periods per day, instead of six.
  • That funding was freed up as part of a larger bond measure approved by voters last year. 

Some teachers will still teach six periods: Reducing the number of periods secondary teachers teach per day is aimed at increasing teachers’ planning time, as well, something secondary teachers called for during the contract negotiations in 2020.

For teachers who for some reason take on a sixth period, the district has already agreed to compensate them an extra $5,200 per year starting next school year.

Key quote: “Our committee intended that this (MOU) would apply five out of seven to general education teachers, not special education teachers,” Schumacher said. “Just by the nature of their position, it’s impossible to guarantee that because of the kids they serve. There’s gonna be some cases where we can have them teach five out of seven, but not across the board.”