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State-assigned fact finder hears from parties in Shawnee Mission schools labor dispute

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jan 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-09 23:51:42-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A labor dispute that has stretched on for months was back in the spotlight Thursday as the Shawnee Mission School District and local teachers union presented points to a state-assigned fact finder.

Much of the debate revolves around almost $10 million in extra funding the district receives as a result of the revised Kansas school funding formula.

For the last several months, teachers have argued that they should see bigger growths in salaries as they continue to deal with larger class sizes and an extra hour of teaching.

“I have on average roughly 14 seconds per student during my plan time,” Shawnee Mission East High School history instructor Steve Laird said. “If we were teaching five classes, that would be 30 less papers I would have to grade. I’m a history teacher and we need to have students writing and making historical arguments not just remembering facts.”

As a result of the increased workload, several teachers told 41 Action News on Thursday that morale among staff has taken a hit.

Despite SMSD teachers making some of the highest average salaries across Kansas, the union said the district could do more to help instructors.

“It needs to grow, because the cost of living in Johnson County is going up,” teacher's union president Linda Sieck said. “The district has opportunities to look at its budget and decide where are we spending our resources and is that the wisest use of our money.”

The labor dispute over salary growth now centers around small percentage points.

According to the proposal from the teacher's union, a three-year deal would increase salaries by 2% the first year and 1.5% during the remaining two years.

The two-year counter proposal from the district would increase salaries by 1% year one and 1.25% in year two.

On Thursday night, the district argued that it couldn’t afford the salary growth teachers want.

“We have written into the contract for transportation a 3% increase,” Shawnee Mission School District Chief Communications Officer David Smith said. “We have increases in utility costs. We have new staff that we’ve hired. We have increases in health insurance costs. After those things, we’ve put everything into salary increases for our teachers and other staff.”

Both sides told 41 Action News that they hoped a deal would come soon.

After Thursday's meeting, the district said it expects the state-assigned fact finder to issue a report sometime next week.

It's likely more negotiations will take place after that report is issued before the sides can reach an agreement.