Archive for Thursday, June 2, 2005

School finance limbo puts teacher talks on hold

June 2, 2005

Negotiations between teachers and De Soto USD 232 aren't at an impasse, but they are at a standstill.

Pinning down teacher salaries -- and thus contracts -- for the 2005-2006 school year hinges on what the Kansas Supreme Court decides to do about the school finance bill now before it. Until the Court OKs, rejects or modifies the bill, districts won't be able to calculate their upcoming year's budgets, teacher salaries included.

Negotiation teams would like to have had next school year's teacher contract completed and ready to sign before teachers left for the summer last week.

That would be ideal, said district operations director Jack Deyoe, because teachers would know how much money they'd be getting before the last minute, and payroll could plan in advance.

However, even if negotiators reach an agreement during the summer months, Lexington Trails Middle School teacher and De Soto Teachers' Association president Ed Wilcox said district teachers would likely sign contracts when they returned to work in August.

Although the standstill isn't ideal, he said, teachers understood that legislative action must come first.

Deyoe said his district's negotiators had been meeting off and on since April. He said they had agreed on next year's benefits and insurance plan but must wait before setting salaries.

In January, the Supreme Court declared the Kansas education finance system unconstitutional, saying it failed to adequately fund public schools. The Court ordered lawmakers to devise a plan to fix the problem during its last legislative session.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the bill presented by the Legislature on May 11 but has yet to decide whether to approve it.

If the Court approves the bill, districts would receive more money from the state and be able to work with that for teacher negotiations. If the Court refuses to accept the bill or takes no action, districts would work with the status quo -- this year's budget -- for next year's salaries, leaving little if any money for raises.

Deyoe said that's why he hoped the Court would act before school starts in August.

"If we were to negotiate right now, we'd be negotiating on last year's money," Deyoe said. "And nobody wants to do that. Last year's money was too little."

Even if the Court throws out the finance plan, salaries at least won't dip below their present amounts, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner told teachers gathered for the district's staff breakfast Friday.

"Planning is at a standstill," she said. "The good news is that we are not going to cut or reduce salaries from their current level."

De Soto uses a salary schedule to determine teacher pay. The schedule is a scale based on years with the district and the highest level of education obtained by the teacher.

After several years without it, De Soto reinstated the salary schedule beginning with the 2004-2005 school year. On De Soto's 2004-2005 schedule, the base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree is $31,494.

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