The Kansas Department of Labor has sided with the teachers union in an ongoing contract dispute with the Shawnee Mission School District.
The Department of Labor found that the district committed a “prohibited labor practice” when it imposed a three-year unilateral contract on teachers late last month.
The labor board’s ruling came just minutes before a 4 p.m. deadline for teachers to sign that contract. Only one teacher had tendered her resignation as of mid-afternoon Friday, according to a district spokesman. Most teachers had already signed the three-year contract.
The ruling invalidates the second and third year of that contract, which would have covered the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
“We’re encouraged by today’s ruling, but it really represents an opportunity for the district to show that it does respect the people who work most closely with our students every day,” National Education Association-Shawnee Mission local President Linda Sieck said in a statement. “In doing so, the district can also demonstrate that it respects our students who learn best when their teachers have the time and tools necessary to teach.”
The union didn’t want a three-year contract unless it addressed workload for middle and high school teachers, who teach more periods than educators in neighboring districts.
The Shawnee Mission school board can still impose a one-year unilateral contract on teachers. Or it can go back to the bargaining table.
Shawnee Mission teachers have the highest average pay in the state of Kansas. The three-year unilateral contract had included a 1% raise this year with additional increases next year and the year after.
Hiring 70 additional teachers to address workload concerns, however, would cost the district $5 million, money the district says it doesn’t have.
A fact-finder appointed by the Kansas Department of Labor agreed with the district’s financial outlook, saying teachers’ demands were “overly aggressive.”
“While the district disagrees with the decision, we remain committed to working with NEA-SM to resolve the matter of future compensation, benefits, and working conditions,” the district said in a statement. “As such, the district has reached out to KNEA to discuss the decision and will work to identify next steps. The district continues to believe it is essential to reach agreement on a contract that is in the best interest of teachers and is fiscally responsible."
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.