La Center schools near deal on teacher salary

District will pay about the same as before state cuts

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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La Center’s teachers union and school administration are close to reaching an agreement that would cover the money teachers lost in statewide cuts this year, officials on both sides said.

News of an impending agreement comes three weeks after the teachers union sent the district a “demand to bargain” letter seeking to renegotiate a contract that pays teachers according to the state’s salary schedule — a pay scale the Legislature cut by 1.9 percent this school year.

During a special meeting Tuesday night, La Center’s school board authorized Superintendent Mark Mansell to create a package that would compensate teachers for their expected losses this year.

An agreement is best for both sides because it ensures students will attend 180 class days and teachers will receive around the same amount of money they would have received prior to the cuts, Mansell and union president Jeremy Ecklund agreed.

Teachers in the district would have lost between $600 and $1,200 in salary this year, depending on their classroom experience, had the cuts gone through, Mansell said. For instance, a first-year teacher would have made a base salary of $33,401 this school year, as opposed to $34,048 last year. A teacher with 16 or more years’ experience would have received a base salary of $62,955 this year, as opposed to $64,174 last year.

Instead, teachers will receive two designated professional development half-days off, pay for an extra work day and an unspecified amount of money to offset the cuts, according to the proposed agreement.

“We’re focused on serving kids and our staff is focused on serving kids,” said La Center Superintendent Mark Mansell.

Ecklund echoed Mansell’s thoughts.

“Our push the whole time was, we did not want to reduce student contact time,” the teachers union president said.

The state’s salary schedule determines what public school teachers across the state are paid, based on classroom experience up to 16 years and educational credits earned beyond a bachelor’s degree.

The state Legislature’s decision to slice teachers’ salaries 1.9 percent has resulted in tough decisions for school districts across Clark County and beyond. For instance, Battle Ground’s schools and district offices will take seven furlough half-days this school year.

Meanwhile, Woodland added three compensated days of work and a half-day furlough to account for the 1.9 percent cut.

La Center’s situation differed because it still had two years left on the contract it negotiated with the teachers union.

Due to the remaining years on the contract, the school board declined the union’s initial request to renegotiate its contract.

Mansell noted that other districts across the state used the same options the school board decided upon, and they did not constitute a renegotiation.

It remains unclear whether salary talks will become a fixture for school districts like La Center in years to come.

“I don’t think we can predict what happens next year,” Ecklund said. “A lot of people are gloom-and-doom with the cuts next year.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.