Teacher contract negotiations restart at fact finding process

Shawnee Mission NEA and School District meet at the Center for Academic Achievement, Jan. 9 at 5 p.m. to discuss their facts

Anna Miesner, Writer and Ad's Editor

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Tomorrow, the Shawnee Mission School District and its teachers will meet for the fact finding process surrounding the 2020 teachers’ contract which has not been settled for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Both sides are negotiating over subjects such as a raise in salary, working hours and teacher involvement. Though as Shawnee Mission NEA’s (National Education Association) Vice President Jill Johnson explains, the biggest demand from teachers has been a decrease in the number of hours per day spent teaching. 

“Before we start the process of negotiations we will send out surveys to the entire staff of our school district,” Johnson said. “What we’ve heard over and over recently is that they want to go back to teaching five hours instead of six. For secondary teachers that the number one thing, they see the importance of getting a raise every year, but right now they are overworked.”

Furthermore, NEA President Linda Sieck believes that the teacher’s salary could be increased if the teacher contract were changed. 

“Not changing the contract causes a delay in payment for teachers even if they earn a better degree in their field,” Sieck said. “We have teachers that earned their master’s degree over the summer and they’ve been waiting since September to get that bump in salary. And a lot of people have to check out college loans to work towards that degree and they’ve had to start paying back on those loans, so it has created hardship for people who are planning on that money. We’ve never gone this late without a contract.” 

The teacher contract covers a variety of different subjects for teachers, one of the most important being pay, but the number of hours in the contract hasn’t been changed in years due to a lack of agreement. 

“Since we did not settle on a contract that all sides agreed on, Kansas state law says that we work on the current contract,” Sieck said. “That means that everyone has a job but we’re working on last year’s salary and last year’s contract.” 

Chief Communications Officer David Smith expressed the district’s concern about the negative financial impacts that increasing salary and decreasing teachers’ hours will have on the district. 

“When we talk about an increased compensation for our teachers we aren’t talking about a one percent increase in compensation,” Smith said. “There are at least four things that the district puts money into that impact compensation for teachers. First is the base salary which is a one percent increase. There’s also what we call a step increase which is basically movement on the salary schedule, and we’ve offered more than a one percent in step increase. We also have offered movement for what we’ve called professional growth. In addition, we’ve offered additional money toward health insurance. If you put all three of those together were putting more than three percent increase into our teaching. So this notion that it’s a one percent increase just isn’t accurate.” 

Smith also said that any more of an increase would cause serious financial problems for the district. 

“It’s true that teachers aren’t compensated for the level that they should be. At the same time, in Shawnee Mission we do value our teachers; our teachers have the highest average pay in the state of Kansas,” Smith said. “We don’t have enough money from the state to do all the things we need to do. There are certain costs that we don’t have the option on, we have to pay our bills. In the past few years, we have been deficit spending, spending more than we took in. That’s a recipe in the end for bankruptcy.” 

Yet despite the district’s assertions, the NEA stills believes it’s possible to raise teacher salary. 

“The district came with a percentage increase in mind and they’ve never budged, and we’ve moved from four percent to two percent when we offered the three-year contract,” Seick said. “The remaining money would be used to invest in hiring teachers to reduce secondary student loads.”

Since both sides have still not come to an agreement, the district and NEA have moved into a state of impasse where a state mediator is assigned to help the two sides come to an agreement. Though as Johnson explains, the process didn’t resolve any issues. 

“We have met twice, and it is clear that we are still too far apart on salary,” Johnson said. “So our team said, ‘We believe we’re at the fact-finding stage.’”

The fact-finding stage is the next stage if the mediator can’t get both sides to reach an agreement.  

On Jan. 9, a meeting will be held at the Center for Academic Achievement where both sides will present facts that support their claims and wants. The fact-finder will look it over and they make suggestions about whose requests should be met. 

Both sides have posted the facts they will present at the meeting at 5 p.m. 

NEA Shawnee Mission: https://www.neasm.org/fact-finding 

Shawnee Mission District: https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1575304234/smsdorg/zuy5rfk8zzk31ykdtjwy/DistrictsPre-HearingBrief.pdf

However, the district doesn’t have to listen to these suggestions. 

After the fact-finding process, the district and NEA have 15 days to hold an official meeting and come up with an agreement. As Seick explained, if an agreement is not found after the fact-finding process then the district and NEA have two options.  

“The district could offer a unilateral contract and they could pick and choose a current contract and say, ‘We want to offer these things in the contract, but we want to get rid of these things in the contract,’” Sieck said. “We could decide to work under the current year contract.” 

Either way, the NEA wouldn’t be getting what they wanted. 

Linda Sieck believes both sides need to come up with a compromise. 

“For negotiations to be successful, they always require a degree of compromise,” Sieck said. “So I hope the district will listen in an effort to repair some damage to our relationship between both sides. We need to figure out how to come together again and move on and hopefully work together for the future.”