Thursday’s decision by the Hays USD 489 school board to remove a 4.6 percent raise accidentally given to classified staff received negative response from the standing-room only crowd at the special meeting.
“We got left in the dark again,” said Evelyn Younker, a cook manager for the district.
Several of those at the meeting declined to speak when asked afterward, but Younker was among those who were somewhat vocal during the meeting, murmuring some support for comments by board members, Luke Oborny in particular.
“I’ve been with this district 36 years and all they do is take, take, take, take,” she said. Younker said she makes less than $15 an hour.
“When I was hired, they said they couldn’t pay us much because our retirement package was awesome. They took all that away. They capped sick days,” she said.
She said bus drivers received a pay raise a few years ago and paraprofessionals got a $2 an hour raise for this school year.
“What do we get? Screwed,” she said.
“Most of us have been here a long time, show to work every flipping day, and we give our heart and soul to this district, and for them to not appreciate us? Why don’t they come and work an hour, for one day follow us? Walk in my footsteps. I challenge any of them,” she said.
She said she did appreciate the support shown by Oborny, Sophia Rose Young and Mike Walker, who spoke in favor of keeping the raise.
“I feel they feel us. They know where we’re coming from,” she said.
The raise came about from an administrative mistake that was discovered just last week, Superintendent John Thissen said.
The raise, which began July 1, affects 112 classified staff — 13 administrators, seven directors, and 92 bus drivers, cooks, secretaries, technicians and early childhood staff.
The classified staff is not represented by a bargaining unit. Traditionally, the board allows a raise for classified staff equal to that negotiated with the Hays chapter of the Kansas National Education Association, but those discussions are at impasse.
Any raise that is approved after the impasse is resolved will be retroactive. The board’s vote Thursday directed the classified staff does not have to pay back the extra money already paid, so it was uncertain when their raise would be back-dated to.
The board is not legally obligated to connect the classified raise to teachers, however, and local NEA officials criticized the board’s decision, speaking to the audience while the board was in an executive session at the end of the meeting.
“This easily could have been taken care of today with somebody making a motion to give you your 4.6 percent raise and be done with it. It is not tied to teacher negotiations. It should have been taken care of today,” said Kathy Rome, director for the KNEA Cottonwood UniServ. She is based in Hays, but the unified staff service office covers 18 counties in northwest Kansas.
“What they give us is not legally binding to what they give classified people, so they could have done that today,” said Kim Schneweis, co-chair of the teachers’ association negotiation team.
Schneweis noted the district’s 2018-19 budget planned for an average raise of 4.6 percent for all staff, something the board did acknowledge.
The negotiations with the teachers bargaining unit stalled over the amount of the pay raise, with the board offering an average of 3.6 percent. The board declared the impasse in executive session at its Oct. 8 meeting. The board’s negotiating team and KNEA will meet with a federal negotiator on Thursday.
“We have in our notes, in the negotiation notes, that a 4.6 across-the-board raise was planned. It was in the works for months. It is not a surprise. It was planned, it is budgeted. Why they’re backtracking on that, we do not know,” she said.
Oborny and Walker indicated Thursday the district’s initial figures were off. In comments during the meeting, Oborny alluded to a “math error in August.”
Walker, in comments after the meeting, said the board realized its dollar figures were off after negotiations started and there were other expenses and programs the board realized it wanted to support.
But Schneweis said the board had not given a reason for the change in figures.
“There has been no word on what they’re going to do with that difference in money, of what they had budgeted and what they are now offering. Where’s it going to go? We don’t know,” she said.
The KNEA representatives said the board’s tradition of determining classified raises on what the teachers negotiate is an unfair burden.
“When we negotiate, we can’t even discuss other groups. By law, we are representing the teachers. For them to put that on our shoulders is unfair, because we can’t even discuss you there,” Schneweis said.
Rome told the classified staff any district employee is eligible to join the Hays NEA chapter.
“I really feel like if they’re going to lump us all together and you guys are going to get what these guys get, then we need to be in this together. Right now I think our voice needs to be unified,” she said.
Custodians and maintenance staff are represented by Service Employees International Union, which successfully negotiated a 4.6 percent average raise earlier this year.
However, this is the final year SEIU will represent the USD 489 staff, as the board voted in May to opt out of the Public Employer-Employee relations act, ending SEIU’s involvement in negotiations at the end of this fiscal year.