The Wichita school district has reached a tentative contract agreement with the local teachers union, possibly ending a lengthy and at times adversarial negotiation season.
The tentative deal would reinstate an academic calendar with shorter school days and a longer school year. Teachers would get a nearly 4 percent raise.
“We’re pleased that we have a tentative agreement,” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, which represents the district’s 4,200 teachers.
“To get what we did is a small victory, and it shows what can happen when people stick together and fight for what they believe in.”
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At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Alicia Thompson and school board president Mike Rodee said the contract rewards teachers for their dedication.
“We recognize that we can’t fix eight years of budget cuts and inadequate compensation in one year,” Rodee said. “However, it is imperative that we remain focused on what is right and best for our staff, our students and our families. This tentative agreement requires sacrifice, but it also honors the essential role our teachers play in the success of our students.”
Highlights of the tentative 2017-18 contract:
▪ A 3.95 percent increase to the salary schedule.
▪ A return to the district’s previous calendar, with 15 more school days. Each day would be 30 minutes shorter. Schools would maintain an added recess period, additional plan time and an extended winter break.
▪ One step plus one “make-up” step on the salary schedule for years of experience.
▪ Adjustment on the salary schedule based on additional education, known as tracks.
▪ Longevity bonuses for teachers who qualify for them.
District officials said more than half of the district’s teachers would see their compensation increase by more than 8 percent. They did not offer a price tag for what the tentative deal would cost the district – an amount that would come out of the district’s already-approved $682 million budget.
Teachers will vote on the contract in coming days. If they ratify it, it would go to the Wichita school board for final approval.
The tentative agreement comes after several months of heated negotiations that required help from a federal mediator. In recent weeks, union leaders took to social media to decry what they said was the school board’s lack of commitment to teachers.
Wentz, the union president, said he was glad the district agreed to the union’s final demand – a “make-up” salary step on for teachers, estimated to cost $2 million.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Wentz said. “But I’m not going to say I’m grateful for something that should have happened weeks or even months ago.”
Thompson said the proposed deal “would not be without sacrifice” and would mean scaling back other parts of the district’s budget.
Spending on new technology and social-emotional education – part of Thompson’s plan to improve student behavior – would be reduced, she said. She did not provide exact figures or details about how programs might change.
“We are going to be looking at what we can do with the remaining funds, but we will not have the robust system that we had anticipated,” Thompson said.
“The board gave us a directive of priorities and they asked us to plan, and we did. And we budgeted to that plan,” she said. “Now the plan has been altered … so we’ve got to go back and re-adjust.”
Under the proposed contract, the starting salary for Wichita teachers would be $40,692 – “one of the highest in our area,” Thompson said.
The Wichita district, as part of a $3 million budget cut last year, added 30 minutes to each school day and trimmed 15 days from the academic calendar. Officials said their desire to return to the previous calendar was based on overwhelming dislike of the late dismissal time among district families and teachers.
In an online survey conducted by the district, 63 percent of employees, 54 percent of parents and 47 percent of students said the longer day did not have a positive impact. Three-fourths of students responding to the survey agreed with the statement that “staying awake at the end of the day is a concern.”
Thompson said Wednesday that returning to the previous calendar and shorter school days would be a win for students, teachers and families.
“My gut tells me that we did lose teachers because of the calendar,” she said. “That was very much a hardship to a lot of teachers, and they have definitely told us so.”