The Wichita school district will seek federal mediation — and closed-door sessions — to settle a contract dispute with its 4,000 teachers over salaries and other issues.
Representatives for the district and the local teachers union, declared an impasse today after another heated negotiation session that district officials called “adversarial.”
Neither side knew when a mediator would be appointed. A new contract is set to begin Aug. 1.
Since talks began in March, the sides have not discussed salaries and have made little progress toward consensus on such issues as teacher evaluations, lesson plans, dress code, classroom discipline and professional development.
“This has been very adversarial, and I think you have to agree,” said Tom Powell, general counsel for the district. “Right from day one, the way it was orchestrated, the comments.
“I think that’s an impediment to us reaching agreement, and … for all those reasons, we’re at impasse.”
Greg Jones, lead negotiator for United Teachers of Wichita, said his group had hoped to extend talks past a Friday deadline that, according to state law, requires mediation unless both sides agree to continue.
“We certainly believe there’s some possibility of coming to agreement,” Jones said. “We haven’t even talked about money, so I don’t think we’re at impasse. We need to talk about it.
“I guess they want to go to impasse,” he said. “Obviously, the cameras bother them a great deal.”
Teacher contract negotiations are public, open meetings.
This year union officials brought a video camera to the first session, intending to record the proceedings in case they wanted to share them with their members, possibly on YouTube.
The district’s team protested the move, then relented and began recording the sessions as well.
Today Powell said the union’s insistence on recording the sessions started this year’s talks on a negative note.
“When you tell our team right on the first day that there’s a possibility that we’re going to be on YouTube, what do you think?” Powell said.
“That puts us in a … position where we have to be thoughtful, be very careful about what we say because whatever we say can be completely taken out of context. We could be made to look like utter idiots.”
Jones countered: “Since things are public anyway, we don’t think there was anything out of line about having the videotapes.”
“What was really out of line was when you said what it was going to be used for,” Powell replied. “That’s really out of line. You knew our feelings that day.”
During today’s three-hour session, the teams discussed a district proposal for more detailed lesson plans and one that would require teachers to follow their school’s discipline plan before referring any student to the principal.
They also heard details on proposed new requirements for short-term disability.
Jones, the union leader, said his team has a preliminary proposal regarding a teacher dress code, but they didn’t want to present it until they heard from the district on salaries.
The union is asking for a 3 percent salary increase and a return to raises, plus back pay, for additional education or experience. It also seeks fewer professional development days.
District leaders have proposed freezing teacher pay at 2008 levels.
Powell said his team wasn’t prepared to discuss salary issues because they would not meet with school board members until June 11.