By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
After the Liberal National Educators Association presented its side of the negotiations, administrators from USD No. 480, along with their lead negotiator atorney Wayne Tate, presented the items the district could provide in response Wednesday to those demands.
The top issue for educators was salaries, and Tate said while the district would like to meet that area of need, it will be a struggle to do so.
“Anybody who picks up a newspaper or who turns on a TV understands the budget concerns,” he said. “Districts across the state are talking about cutting positions, tenured teachers, etc.”
Tate said the USD 480 Board of Education shares LNEA’s concern about salaries, as well as health insurance for teachers, two of the primary issues on the association’s plate.
“However, under the current economic climate, I think everybody understands the difficulty in the shortage there,” he said.
Tate said the board has taken the position of doing everything possible to maintain the district’s standing within the state regarding salaries to try to stay in the upper tier of schools in recruiting teachers.
“With that being said, there’s the economic realities we have to talk about,” he said.
In-service days, particularly for first-year educators, was likewise an issue for LNEA, and Tate said for certified staff in their first year of employment, the USD 480 contract would be for an additional three days of in-service.
“It’s my understanding that’s been the past practice for the last 10, 12 years anyway,” he said.
Tate said the extra three days would be to help get teachers acclimated to the district.
“I don’t know what LNEA’s position is going to be on that,” he said. “We just want the contract to conform to the current practice.”
Liberal currently has both one of the longest school days and school years in the state, and LNEA negotiator Brent Goodwin suggested decreasing the number of contract days for teachers. Tate said the board’s position is to talk about possibly increasing the number of contract days.
“Obviously, that’s going to be an area that we’re going to have difficulty agreeing on based upon what you have just said,” Tate said.
Discussions next turned to the district’s Odyssey of the Mind program. Tate said some teams travel to competitions where they are the only ones to compete, and this is one way the board is looking at saving money.
USD 480 Business and Finance Director Jerry Clay said the big concern is the district pays for anyone who qualifies to go to state as an expense.
“We had four teams go to the regionals,” he said. “Three of those teams had no competition, and as long as you earn the base minimum, they qualify for state. What the board is concerned with is they go to state, and that’s an expense to us should we be looking at that many teams to be able to go.”
Evaluation was the next item visited, and Tate said with restructuring taking place at South Middle School, a different means of evaluation is required.
“I asked Jerry, ‘Has the state said here’s the evaluation tool you have to use if you don’t meet this criteria?’” he said. “He indicated no, that the local boards have been told they need to develop their own evaluation tool to do that.”
Tate said the district has no such tool at this point, but an evaluation form needs to be discussed and put together.
“Obviously, the main concern is if the situation doesn’t improve, it puts federal dollars at risk,” he said. “If you lose those federal dollars, you lose essentially teaching positions.”
Tate said he would like the district and LNEA to be on the same page in this area.
“I think everybody’s goal is the same there – to meet these criteria so we don’t put the federal funding at risk, which would in turn risk teaching positions,” he said.
Goodwin said the transformational model the board voted on Monday for South takes into account data on student growth as a significant factor as well as other factors.
“That evidently is your guideline and the gist of it,” he said.
USD 480 Board of Education President Dan Diepenbrock said this is criteria and is non-negotiable, but the district does not know if that requires modifying existing procedures.
South was restructured following four consecutive years of not making Adequate Yearly Progress. According to Goodwin, an educator at the school, those scores have improved this year. This takes South off the list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, but it still gets grant money.
“We had 72 percent proficient in math and 71 percent in reading,” he said. “We’re not on the bottom 5 percent anymore.”
Clay said one of the problems with salary demands is state legislators are still trying to figure out how to balance this year’s budget and have not even begun looking at numbers for the following year.
Schools such as South and Liberal High School, which was also listed among the bottom 5 percent in the state, could receive as much as $2 million in federal government aid through the transformational model put in place at South and potential for a model at LHS. Clay described the application process.
“There’s the transformational model, and there’s all these other steps that you have to fill out the forms for,” he said. “That goes to the state.”
Clay said the state then reviews what is said, and it will determine how much of the funds are available.
“It also depends on these 17 other schools that were in this first group that were listed,” he said referring to the 18 total districts on improvement in the state. “They have to look at all these applications and determine they’ve got so much money they can allocate out. They’ve set the limit that you can’t get more than $2 million.”
Clay said Kansas Director of Title Program Services Dr. Julie Ford told the board at Monday’s meeting that by the middle of May, the district should know what kind of dollar value will be seen for Title I funding in Liberal.
Goodwin said LNEA wants to negotiate as it should, but members would like to know where the board is coming from as far as maintaining salaries and benefits already in place.
“The board certainly wants to maintain the current salary schedule,” Tate said. “It’s my understanding that they are going to try to deal with budget constraints through attrition as opposed to having to cut any positions.”
Tate said this means should a teacher retire or move, depending on the money received, those educators may not be replaced.
“They certainly want to retain the staff that is here and try to compensate them as much as they can,” he said. “There are districts that are talking about cutting 30, 40, 50 positions. Judges across the state just took a 5 percent reduction in their salary. They didn’t take it kindly either, but that’s the reality of the situation.”
Tate said getting and retaining good teachers is a benefit because it makes the district administration’s job easier.
“There’s certainly no conflict of interest there as far as what central office wants and what the teachers want,” he said.
Near the end of Wednesday’s negotiations, the subject was brought back to Odyssey of the Mind, with LNEA member LeAnn Hebbert inquiring as to why that program was singled out for cuts. Clay said OM competitions can get very expensive very quickly, particularly when talking about world competitions.
“In the last five years, we’ve had at least one team and in some years, we’ve had four or five teams go to world,” he said. “Registration to world alone is $3,000 apiece. Right now, they’ve always been in the United States, but it’s been Baltimore, Florida and Iowa.”
Board of education vice president Cheryl Louderback said some teams have gotten to world competitions without having competition in previous rounds.
“Even though they didn’t have to compete with another team, they made their points, and they went there,” she said. “State is one cost and world. It just continues to add up more expensive with each one even when they weren’t competing.”
Negotiations will continue at 4:30 p.m. March 31 at the Education Service Center.