by Michael Schwanke & Pilar Pedraza
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
11:27 PM CDT, June 11, 2012
Wichita teachers protested outside as the Wichita School Board got its first look at next year’s budget. Although very few details were presented, Superintendent John Allison says the district is basically “treading water” when it comes to next year’s budget.
He says lawmakers in Topeka have given school districts very little time to figure out next year’s budget so there are a lot of uncertainties right now.
There’s one thing that stands out in the budget this year and that’s teacher salaries. A one percent raise would mean several million dollars for the district. The union is asking for a three percent raise with tracks, steps, longevity and back pay.
That would cost the district more than $46 million.
Allison says if the district could come up with the money for next year, he worries about future years if funding is cut. He says that could mean pay cuts and layoffs.
The board will meet again on June 25. Allison says the district should have a better idea on funding from the state. The board should approve the budget on July 23.
“Surrounding districts have gotten pay increases in the past few years,” said Larry Landwehr of the United Teachers of Wichita Union. Now, Wichita teachers say they deserve raises too. Teachers are expected at tonight's school board meeting, where they plan to rally for a pay increase. That's also where the superintendent will give school board members their first look at the 2012-13 budgeting process.
It comes down to the fact the district had to wait for final numbers from the state budget, which was just completed late last month, before it could begin to set its budget. This, even as the district tries to negotiate a new contract with its teachers, teachers who haven't had a pay raise in years.
“I think they need to show that they value their educators, these people here that are working so hard,” said Brent Lewis, a Wichita teacher.
Landwehr added, “Compensation's always a big deal. Everyone who has a job likes to be rewarded for the job they do.”
Teacher pay has been the sticking point in negotiations between the teachers' union and the Wichita School District. One won't talk about anything else until compensation is dealt with. The other has said it can't discuss compensation until a budget is set. Right now, negotiations are at an impasse with a mediator scheduled to come in to help in a couple weeks.
Now that the key budgeting process is about to get underway, teachers are keeping a close eye on it.
“I just hope that we're not spending more money on things that will make the jobs more difficult,” said Landwehr.
Their hopes? That money can be found to pay back teachers who've stuck it out despite the pay freeze and even sought out advanced degrees.
“So they put out lots of money of their own pocket in order to get that Master's degree or specialist's degree. Yet they're not being compensated for it,” Landwehr said.
“There are many ways that they can do that,” added Lewis. “Possibly within the budget. But a lot of things, it doesn't take money.”
That 'other means' Lewis was talking about? Bringing teachers in on discussions before major decisions are made about things like teacher training and student management. That's what the educators gathered outside North High before the school board meeting tonight were rallying about. They called it the Support Our Educators Rally. Their main point, they want a voice in the discussion.
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