USD 234 board, teachers' union reach agreement on contracts

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

After months of negotiating, the contract dispute between the USD 234 Board of Education and Fort Scott's Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) members has been resolved.

During a Feb. 22 meeting between the two sides, a two-year contract was proposed that would resolve this year's contract dispute, which nearly reached the fact-finding stage, while also setting the terms for the 2007-08 school year contract. Fort Scott KNEA spokesperson and Eugene Ware Elementary School teacher Glenda Miller said the faculty approved the plan, 126 positive votes to just 11 negative votes. The board of education ratified the agreement during Monday's regular board meeting, making the contract agreement official.

By agreeing on terms for next year's contract, the district avoids any contract dispute during the 07-08 school year, which is a pleasant change from this year's contract negotiations. The two sides officially declared impasse on this year's negotiations on Sept. 12, 2006, and were scheduled to advance to fact-finding, the final stage in the negotiations process, on Feb. 27.

Fort Scott KNEA President Linda Jackson said the two-year agreement has many benefits for teachers, including having the stability of knowing what their salaries will be next year. She added that the agreement also helps to raise morale among teachers.

"It offers stability," Jackson said, "because we know the money coming in. Right now, everybody is really energized by this."

USD 234 Business Manager Alan Drake said coming to a two-year agreement in the contract negotiations is a rare occasion. Even more unique, he said, is having the following year's contract agreed upon so early in the process. In a normal year, Drake said, the two negotiation teams would exchange their proposals in February, then in March and April they would meet to discuss "non-money issues." Drake said the issues involving money would have to wait until the state legislature releases its school finance package for the year, which usually takes place in the summer.

However, thanks to the three-year, $466 million school finance plan the Kansas legislature passed in the summer of 2006, school districts already know how much money is allotted to them, thus speeding up the contract talks.

"This is an unusual year as we look at next year, because we know the money set aside by the legislature right now," Drake said. "In the past, we have not known that."

The contract agreement for the current school year includes a 6.1 percent average raise per teacher, with 3.5 percent minimum and a 17.81 percent maximum based on salary schedule advancement. Since the teachers have been working under the 2005-06 contract, they will receive a supplementary paycheck on April 6 in the amount owed to them based on the difference in pay between last year's contract and this year's agreement, Drake said. The teachers' April 25 paycheck will be their first under the new contract.

Terms of the 2007-08 contract include a $29,319 base salary and a 4.12 percent minimum pay raise. Those numbers include the addition of one instructional teaching day to the school year, an addition that Superintendent Rick Werling said is needed due to the increasing standards brought on by President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

"With No Child Left Behind, we are having to meet higher and higher standards," Werling said. "We've decided to add another instructional day, which we hope will make a difference for our students and our teachers."

Miller said that having next year's contract already agreed upon has other benefits outside of the salary issues.

"I'm smiling ear to ear," Miller said, "because I don't have to come back this summer and negotiate. I actually get a summer break."

With the new agreement, Drake said negotiations will not need to take place again until February 2008, when the two sides will meet to discuss the 2008-09 school year.