LA CENTER — The La Center Education Association voted unanimously to ratify a new contract Tuesday afternoon, which was approved later in the day by the school board.
School will start on time in the district after the teachers union voted 75-1 earlier in the month to strike if a new contract wasn’t approved by the first day of the school year, which is today.
“There was a really strong compromise on both sides,” Denelle Eiesland, president of the teachers union, said. “Each side gave a little, and I feel like we have a fair contract.”
The union agreed, voting Tuesday afternoon 100-0 in favor of ratifying the agreement. The two sides started bargaining in early June, and brought in a mediator from the state starting Friday. They reached a tentative agreement Saturday.
“It was helpful to have that third party come in toward the end,” Superintendent Dave Holmes said.
The two sides agreed to a three-year deal that starts this school year. The teachers will see an 11.5 percent increase in total salary compensation the first year, an additional 3 percent in the second year and an additional 4.5 percent the third year, Eiesland said.
The new deal will put La Center teachers in the middle of local, comparably sized districts salary-wise, Eiesland said. The teachers union spent most of the year studying the school budget and talking to members, who were unhappy to still be some of the lowest paid in the region, according to Eiesland. She said the union conducted a poll during the 2018-19 school year in which 30 percent of teachers said that if something didn’t change in the 2019-20 school year, they’d start looking for jobs elsewhere.
In addition to salary, the length of the contract was a discussion point during bargaining. The district was pushing for a three-year deal, while the union was looking for a two-year contract. Part of the reason is because state legislative sessions run two years, and the union wants to line up with those sessions. That way, if changes are made to education funding, they can be incorporated faster. The district wanted a few years without bargaining after a recent influx.
“We’ve been in bargaining five of the last six years,” Holmes said. “It’s a difficult environment to be in.”
Holmes also said the district has an experienced staff and has heard from multiple teachers that they may retire within the next three years. This contract allows them to plan better for that knowing what their salary will be for the next few years.
The issue of teacher experience has been heavily discussed in the district since the summer of 2018, when most other teachers unions in Clark County went on strike after the McCleary decision led to an influx of $7.3 billion in new state funding for schools to be spread over four years, followed by another $1 billion for teacher salaries. La Center teachers were one of the few unions that didn’t strike last summer.
Part of the reason for that was both sides felt like the district made out poorly in the McCleary decision, they said during the most recent school year.
La Center has an experienced teaching staff, so the McCleary money didn’t stretch as far. Peter Rosenkranz, assistant superintendent, said recently that La Center was allocated $69,129 per teacher from the state, which is less than what most experienced teachers make. He said more than half of La Center’s teachers earn more than that average, meaning the school district had to pull money from elsewhere to make up the difference.
Eiesland said earlier in the bargaining process, the union’s bargaining team felt like proposals gave more money to experienced teachers, which would hurt with recruiting and retaining new teachers to the district. The agreed on deal has even increases across the salary grid, she said.
“If those teachers do retire in the next few years, now we’ll have a better chance at attracting new teachers,” she said. “We weren’t going to do that with our previous salary schedule.”