Archive for Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Teachers, district still negotiating

August 31, 2005

Two weeks into the school year, Tonganoxie teachers and the school district still haven't agreed on teacher salaries.

At a negotiation session Monday night, teachers reviewed their request for a $1,900 increase in their base pay.

Teachers also asked the district to:

  • Add $100 to the additional pay teachers receive for taking graduate-level classes and for years of teaching.
  • Pay $100 more of teachers' monthly health insurance premiums. The district has tentatively agreed to this.
  • Allow in-school planning time for elementary teachers and pay for substitute teachers to cover teachers' duties, at an estimated cost of $18,000.

Meanwhile, the district has offered to add $900 to the teachers' base salaries.

The district, which has 105 teachers, has a starting salary of $27,850.

With an average teacher salary (and benefits) of $42,751, Tonganoxie ranks 91st out of 301 Kansas school districts, according to the Kansas National Education Association.

Per student increase

Part of the difficulty of negotiating for salaries is that, until Sept. 20 when final enrollment numbers are taken, no one knows exactly how much state funding will be available to the Tonganoxie district.

Monday night, teachers and district officials disagreed on how much state funding per pupil the district will receive.

Janet Burnett, Tonganoxie Education Association representative, said teachers believed the district would receive $394 per student more than it did in the 2004-2005 school year.

School board member Darlyn Hansen quipped, "What district are you talking about?"

Superintendent Richard Erickson explained that, while on paper it appears Tonganoxie will receive nearly $400 more for each student than it did last year, that's not the reality.

And that's because of a funding process called low-enrollment weighting.

Schools with low enrollments receive more state funds per pupil -- based on the theory that it costs more per student to operate a small school.

Under the formula, Erickson said, the smallest districts receive the most funding and larger districts receive the least. Once a district reaches an enrollment of 1,663 that weighting no longer applies.

However, another weighting takes over -- called correlation weighting.

With Tonganoxie's enrollment nearing the cut-off for low-enrollment weighting, the district is receiving less additional money per student than was expected when the Legislature increased funding this year.

"The net result for us and for most school districts will be about a $150 increase (per student)," Erickson said.

Striving to be fair

Tonganoxie junior high teacher Marilyn Daniels told board members that teachers want to be fair.

"But we also want a reasonable increase," she said.

Junior high teacher Kathy Harrell asked about salary increases at other districts.

"How do you explain it that these other districts are able to give $3,000 or $4,000 on the base?" she asked.

Hansen said those districts might have different weightings, and qualify for more state aid.

"We're talking about what we can do, what we have," Hansen said. "Yeah, I'd love to give it out, but we don't have it."

Erickson advised teachers to call the state department of education.

"I want to be fair with you, but there isn't $394 (additional) on the base," Erickson said.

After meeting for about an hour Monday, Burnett said the teachers would like to have more time to research.

The next negotiation session is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 14 in the junior high library.

Fact finding

On Tuesday, Veryl Peter, of the Kansas Department of Education, agreed the state's funding formula is confusing.

Peter said Erickson was correct that the district will receive $150 in additional funding per pupil this year.

In addition to the base, some districts will receive additional funding, according to their enrollment or other factors.

Peter said that while Tonganoxie continues to slide out of the low-enrollment weighting category, once the district reaches an enrollment of 1,663, it will be eligible for another weighting.

Last year, Tonganoxie received funding based on 1,572.7 students, Peter said.

This year's official enrollment, Erickson estimated, will be about 50 students higher -- but not high enough for correlation weighting to kick in.

Lily Kober, who works at Kansas National Education Association, said she respected Peter's explanation.

"I trust Veryl Peter, certainly, but I'm not quite sure I understand," Kober said. "It's because they're growing that they're losing the low-enrollment weighting, but for every new student they're growing, they're going to be bringing in money."

Kober said she thought it was an excellent idea for the teachers to do more research.

"If people don't understand the budget process they can be misled," Kober said. "I think understanding that budget process is essential for both parties."

Kober said the Tonganoxie school district would have about a 5.35 increase in incoming funds this year.

"If I were a teacher bargainer, it would seem to me that if my district's total general fund budget can increase by that percentage, it's reasonable to think their salaries can increase by that amount," Kober said. "I think that's reasonable, especially in light of the fact that teachers have taken it in the shorts since 1992 because of the fact that the Legislature hadn't been funding education at what it actually cost."

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