District IBB team works to negotiate salaries

Lauren Mitchell

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Addie Lindenmeyer

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Despite a proposal that would have given USD 373 employees approximately 3 percent larger paychecks, 63 percent of teachers and staff members voted it down on Sept. 18.

“Now, we go back to the bargaining table. We have already sent a survey to the teachers to gather information on why they voted ‘no’,” Newton NEA president Cathlina Bergman said. “We’ve had over 180 responses so far. We’ll take that information with us, and we’ll sit down with the Board to try to find solutions. Until then, the teachers will keep working on last year’s contract.”

Following a Kansas Supreme Court decision regarding the inadequacy of education funding, the legislature voted to add $488 million to school allocations for the 2017-18 school year. The funding systems from the state government changed from block-grant funding back to a weighting formula and added full funding of all-day kindergarten.

According to USD 373 director of business services Matt Morford, the district is estimated to receive an additional $806,000 — the bulk of which will be allocated to raising the salaries and benefits for district staff once a proposal is finalized.

Along with the eventual increase in salary for teachers and classified staff, the budget increases will allow for the addition of instructional aide positions.

“So that accounts for approximately $650,000 and then that is just on teachers. Any classified staff, so instructional aides, paraeducators, building administrative assistants, we try to give them the same thing, so roughly 3 percent increase. That was another approximately $200,000 so that ate up a good chunk of the portion. We did increase instructional aide positions throughout the district, we added 16 additional instructional aides, so that was I think $320,000. Between those three, that is more than the $800,000 to $1 million, but there is give and take in other departments,” Morford said.

According to Morford, the change back to a weighting formula results in a $154 increase per student and additional funding for other programs.

“A weighting would be we get funding if students are considered ‘free’ by the USDA guidelines. Students enrolled in vocationally funded courses at the high school based on clock hours would generate ‘x’ amount of dollars. Bilingual learners and students who are non-English speaking students, students who live more than 2.5 miles away from school and ride the bus would generate funding,” Morford said.

The district’s proposal for allocation of the additional funding to salaries is only the first step in the process of setting the salary schedule. The Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) team, comprised of Newton National Education Association teachers and district administration, first met to negotiate terms and will continue meeting until they can agree on an adequate salary schedule.

“It’s our job as the official recognized group to negotiate and that means that we sit down every year with the school boards team and we meet as many times as we need to and we talk about. There are certain issues we have to talk about by law, we are always going to talk about salary and benefits and we always talk about the hours teachers work and how much they have to,” Bergman said.

Morford said that the hope with the salary increase is to make USD 373 competitive with other districts for quality teachers. However, although Bergman said teacher salaries are headed in the right direction, she said there is still room for improvement.

“I don’t think it’s enough in the long run because we as a school district are behind other schools around us. We are not able to compete as much for the good teachers, but we are getting there. We are making steps,” Bergman said.

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