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Lawrence school district offers modified tenure process, 1.6 percent pay raise

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Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes: ehughes@ljworld.com

Despite growing financial pressures, negotiators for the Lawrence school district put slightly more than $1 million of new money on the table Monday night to fund pay raises and to absorb the rising cost of health benefits.

But the district said it is not willing to go as far as teachers had requested in fully restoring the administrative due process rights for tenured teachers, rights which for decades had been guaranteed by statute until the Kansas Legislature revoked them earlier this year.

Instead, district officials proposed giving teachers the same administrative due process rights that school administrators still enjoy under statute, which is to appeal a firing or non-renewal of a contract to the school board rather than an independent hearing officer.

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Lawrence school board members Randy Masten, left, and Keith Diaz Moore listen during contract negotiations ...

"We believe that's where the decision-making authority resides, with the board of education," said David Cunningham, director of legal services for the district.

In April, Kansas lawmakers passed a bill that repeals tenure rights for K-12 teachers, although the rights will still apply to community college and technical school instructors. That measure was added late in the session to a school funding bill that was aimed at responding to a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling.

Since then, it has ignited protests among teachers and other public school advocates, and teachers unions have vowed to make it a central issue in the upcoming elections for governor and the Kansas House of Representatives.

Cunningham, however, said the Lawrence school district has several procedures in place to ensure that employment decisions are made fairly. Those include a new evaluation system — which was also the subject of considerable discussion Monday night — as well as evaluation systems for principals and other administrators who make hiring and firing decisions.

"The Board of Education is the body statutorily charged with making employment decisions," district officials stated in a memo outlining their position. "While the manner in which it occurred is suspect, the result of the Legislature's recent action is to restore to the Board that right and obligation."

At an earlier negotiating session, negotiators for the Lawrence Education Association had proposed lifting the language in the current due process statute and inserting it directly into the local contract.

LEA officials did not respond Monday night to the district's proposal. But David Reber, lead negotiator for the local teachers, compared it to putting "the fox in charge of the hen house," saying teachers would have to appeal to a body that had already made up its mind.

Meanwhile, the district did offer to raise every teacher's base pay by $600 a year, and to fully fund the so-called "step increases" they receive for additional years of experience and additional college degrees. That would amount to an average 1.6 percent pay raise for teachers and would cost the district an estimated $711,347 next year.

The district also offered to absorb an estimated 6.1 percent increase in the cost of fringe benefits by continuing to pay the full cost of employee health insurance, for a cost of $296,143.

But district negotiators acknowledged those moves may be unsustainable in the future. Unlike most districts in Kansas, they said, Lawrence will see a net loss in state funding of $1.7 million as a result of the school finance bill that lawmakers passed.

And while the district can restore some of that — about $1.4 million — by raising its local option budget, that would only be good for one year, unless voters in the district vote during the upcoming school year to extend the increase in local property taxes.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again in two weeks, on Monday, June 2.

Comments

Phil Minkin

There is a difference between tenure, which applies to college professors, and due process. K-12 teachers have never had tenure, but until recently have been afforded due process where they are entitled present thier case.
My guess is that Hancock knows the difference, but he probably didn't write the headline.

3 years, 6 months ago

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Peter Hancock

Tenure is a perfectly acceptable word to use to describe the concept of job protection after passing an initial probationary period. Tenure does not apply exclusively to college professors. The law in Kansas that the Legislature repealed for K-12 teachers was originally known as the Tenure Act.

3 years, 6 months ago

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Phil Minkin

Yeah, legislators AWAYS accurately name bills.

3 years, 6 months ago

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Gregory Sharp

Okay paying teachers for having advanced degrees makes no sense to me. Teacher A has bachelors degree and teaches 4th grade Teacher B has Masters degree and teaches 4 th grade. Teacher A is better teacher but makes less than a Teacher B. Does not work that way in private sector. You get paid for performance on private sector. Maybe a reason other countries are producing better educated students. Pay for performance not degrees.

3 years, 6 months ago

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James Howlette

Actually, I got a bonus in my private sector job because of my advanced degree. And I've seen a great many slackers who weren't "performing" skirt by with raises at a variety of jobs over the years. I'm sure you have, too. The "let's run this like a business" thing is just so over romanticized.

Other countries get better results for a variety of reasons, but the idea of "paying for performance" is particularly slippery. How do you measure performance? Test scores? Which part of the student's home life factors into that, or should teachers just be careful to only teach at schools for the gifted? Do you measure it by classroom observations? See: private sector slackers mentioned above.

Pay upticks for experience and additional education are probably as fair as you're going to get. Lest you think it's a motivation thing, they actually did an experiment with huge cash bonuses for higher student performance, and it didn't actually make a difference in how well the kids did .

3 years, 6 months ago

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Scott Morgan

James, excellent insight in my opinion.

OK, now take James comment, ........ ......."student's home life factors into that, or should teachers just be careful to only teach at schools for the gifted?.............. almost sounds like lighthearted, but the following scenario plays out more often than it should.

Teacher "X" successful and comfortable at School "Zemo" but due to seniority (uh, tenure gone, but being moved due to years in district still can be used) is transferred to School "Geeto."

Very difficult on the instructor in most cases. Many of the causes of the new major concern are based on professionalism. For instance Teacher X has just lost his/her School Zemo mentors, including the wonderful public relationship built outside the building. Gone, are the donated time spent in committees to improve Zemo. X must begin to build this support structure again.

In some cases this happens to instructors with 10-15 years experience.

Only now it's much worse. Now X must worry about being fired by a new set of administrators he/she doesn't know. Administrators who did not sit next to X on school improvement committees, nor know about his/her individual success stories.

X was successful at Zemo, but Geeto is a different beast. Test scores at Geeto are below Zemo. Social economic status is often an easy blame, but administration at Geeto has been in flux for years. Not a stable environment, not good. X has heard rumors about administrators favoring teachers they've hired.

It may take some time for X. Will X get the time in this new evaluation and tenure environment? Last year X was comfortable, successful and happy at his/her job. Now X is looking at Aug. and the start of a new school year with a whole new set of problems. Consider this added pressure for somebody working in a field of problems to begin with. We wonder why we lose so many good teachers, locally, state, and nationally.

3 years, 6 months ago

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James Howlette

That's exactly what I'm talking about. What has happened nationally when job retention and raises are tied to student test performance is that either the teachers (and administrators) start cheating on the test scores (Washington DC under Rhee is an example) or the most experienced teachers leave for jobs in the richest, best performing districts.

3 years, 6 months ago

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