Wichita Teachers Just Say No To Contract

By: Jennifer Bocchieri Email
By: Jennifer Bocchieri Email

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August 21, 2009

For the first time in more than a decade Wichita teachers have rejected the latest contract offer from USD 259. Fifty-six percent voted to reject the offer. More than 2,600 teachers voted on the contract.

"I think this vote mirrors teacher's frustrations," said United Teachers of Wichita President Larry Landwehr.

Landwehr says finances did not factor into teacher's no votes, rather it was the school board's lack of addressing professional concerns. Those include the number of in-service days and planning periods built into the school day.

"The vote gives the teacher's union a clear directive. We want the school board to come to the table and work on an agreement the teacher's will accept," said Landwehr.

The board says it's surprised and disappointed teachers voted down the contract.

"As a board member I hurt for the teachers but I feel we did the right thing and the very best thing we could do at this time," said Board President Barb Fuller.

Fuller says, considering they had to slash $16 million out of next year's budget, teachers should consider the fact they didn't make layoffs or up health insurance costs.

"I somehow thought it would pass because people understood the economic times," said Fuller.

New School Superintendent John Allison says when times were better the district helped out teachers by increasing their compensation by more than 22% over the past three years. He says when the economy gets better it will once again add to teachers benefits.

For now, negotiations will begin once again. The board is set to hold a meeting about it's next move on Monday night.

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The United Teachers of Wichita have rejected a contract offer from the Wichita School district. 56% of the teachers voted to reject the contract.
This marks the first time Wichita teachers have rejected a contract since 1997.

At a morning news conference, UTW leaders said the biggest issues for teachers are professional concerns, including in-service days and planning periods built into the school day.

UTW leaders will now survey teachers to find more specific information on why they rejected the contract.

Superintendent John Allison’s statement regarding UTW contract vote:

This statement is issued by Wichita Public Schools Superintendent John Allison in response to today’s announcement by the United Teachers of Wichita that the tentative contract – agreed to by UTW and the Wichita BOE on July 21 – has been rejected by Wichita teachers.

Considering the economic uncertainty faced throughout our community and across the state, we are highly disappointed that the United Teachers of Wichita would recommend the rejection of a contract offer which both parties had tentatively agreed to just one month ago.

The characterization by the United Teachers of Wichita that the tentative agreement is one which disrespects teachers and their sacrifices on behalf of our students totally disregards the investment the Wichita Board of Education has made in our teachers over the last three years. During that period of time, when additional state revenues were being invested to adequately fund public education, the Board increased teacher compensation by more than 22 percent including salary increases, compensation for additional time worked, and increased support for employee health insurance. These years of increased compensation made Wichita’s teachers amongst the highest paid in the State of Kansas, a position they very much deserve.

Union negotiators told the Board’s negotiating team that they would not agree to any items that reduced teacher compensation. Likewise, the Board’s team indicated that they would not agree to any items that reduced time worked without a corresponding decrease in compensation. This is fundamentally at the heart of the “non-monetary” dispute we now face – our district is not at a position to decrease the amount of time worked without a corresponding decrease in employee pay, which is what the UTW negotiating team sought in lieu of a salary increase.

What the Board was able to offer to all employee groups is a frozen salary schedule and elimination of the newly-implemented monthly health care premium for those employees who participate in four wellness events during the year, as well as added compensation to teachers for additional education (tracks), The tracks and additional health benefits are now on hold for teachers due to the failed contract vote.

We understand that our teachers work very hard every day on behalf of Wichita’s children, and the previous four years have proven that when resources are available, the Wichita Board of Education invests those resources where they matter the most – in the classroom. We commend all of our teachers for their dedication to Wichita kids, and we look forward soon to the point that the economy turns around so that we may again be able to increase compensation for those upon whom our community’s future depends.

The Wichita Board of Education will discuss next steps during executive session at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 24. Because a federal mediator had already been called in to consult in both teacher and classified employee negotiations, one final meeting will be scheduled with the federal mediator and the teacher and Board negotiating teams. A meeting with the mediator is already scheduled for early September between classified employees and the Board’s negotiating team as a result of the failed classified employee contract vote.


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