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Thursday, June 8, 2023
June 8, 2023

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La Center School District, teachers return to the table

Mediator present with two sides for first time

By , Columbian Staff Writer

The La Center School District and teachers union will be back at the bargaining table Friday morning, and plan to meet as much as possible over the weekend to avoid delaying the start of the school year on Wednesday.

La Center Education Association members voted 75-1 to strike if a new deal isn’t reached by the first day of school. Friday is the first day the two sides will have a mediator present.

“We ended up in mutual mediation,” said Denelle Eiesland, president of the teachers union. “There wasn’t a whole lot of movement. There was a lot of discussion. We’re optimistic about mediation.”

More mediation is tentatively scheduled going forward, dependent on the mediator’s availability, according to Monique Dugaw, director of communications and public engagement with Educational Service District 112, who is working with the district on communications during bargaining.

“The end goal is resolution,” she said. “The district and union are both committed to coming to the table as often as possible until that point.”

The two sides have been bargaining since early June and, most recently, met Tuesday. The following day, the district shared updates online detailing each side’s most recent proposal. Dugaw said in addition to salary, the two sides are working on the length of the contract.

Eiesland said the district is pushing for a three-year contract, but the union is hoping for a two-year deal. Part of the reason is because state legislative sessions run two years, so the union wants to line up with those sessions. That way, if changes are made to education funding, they can be incorporated faster.

She also said union members feel like the district’s most recent proposal favors more experienced staff.

“We want a deal that benefits our entire membership,” Eiesland said. “We’re working hard on trying to attract and hire new teachers. We do have an experienced and educated staff. We’re always looking to broaden our hires in La Center.”

According to information on the district’s site, the latest proposal from the district is a total compensation package that ranges from $48,403 for the least experienced teachers to $92,515 for the most experienced. The union’s most recent proposal, according to information on the district’s site, has a salary range from $50,179 for the least experienced teachers to $94,579 for the most experienced in the first year of the contract, and a salary range of $51,684 to $97,416 in the second year of the deal.

Experience has been a heavily discussed issue 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.

Peter Rosenkranz, assistant superintendent, said earlier in the week that La Center was allocated $69,129 per teacher from the state, which is less than what most experienced teachers make. He said La Center has longer-tenured staff than most districts; over half of La Center’s teachers earn more than that average. Because of that, the school district had to pull money from elsewhere to make up the difference.

Neither the union nor district feels like La Center made out too well in McCleary, both sides said during the most recent school year. La Center teachers didn’t strike. Instead, teachers signed a one-year contract for the 2018-19 school year that gave them a 6.8 percent increase in total salary compensation, bumped up to 7.8 percent for those who have been employed by the district for 25 years or longer.

According to Dugaw, the district would be willing to meet this weekend even if the mediator isn’t available, and Eiesland said the union bargaining team has cleared out its schedule to get a deal done.

“We’re confident (we’ll start on time),” Eiesland said. “Everybody wants that.”

Columbian Staff Writer