Rallying for raises

Former La Center Education Association President Kathy Bounds runs through the hallway cheering during a rally prior to contract bargaining at La Center High School Aug. 20.

Though La Center teachers were ready to strike for more pay, it appears their union and the La Center School District reached a tentative contract agreement that was set for approval the night before school starts this week.

On Sunday morning, the district announced that it and the La Center Education Association (LCEA) had reached a tentative agreement for teacher contracts. The district announcement said that details of the contract would be released following ratification and approval by the district’s board of directors Aug. 27.

School for La Center School District is set to start Aug. 28.

“We’re thankful to have reached a tentative resolution,” La Center School District Superintendent Dave Holmes said in a statement. “We’re now committed to refocusing and reunifying around our shared passion: student learning.”

“We will be starting school on time Wednesday!” LCEA President Denelle Eiesland said in a brief email Monday morning. 

Though she, too, was unable to give specifics on the contract, she said that teachers were “ready and looking forward to starting the school year.”

The tentative agreement follows a tense week for the district as the teachers’ union and district staff went through negotiations. LCEA had organized rallies prior to bargaining sessions during the week and also held a root beer float social Aug. 22 at Holley Park to talk with the public about what was going on.

LCEA had previously voted 75-1 to strike if a contract it found agreeable was not reached by the start of the school year. LCSD was one of only a few Clark County districts not to strike in 2018, which Past LCEA President Kathy Bounds said was partly because of a lack of information on the district budget at the time they were negotiating their contract. This school year, the association spent “an inordinate amount of time” analyzing the district’s budget, concluding that the district had the funds to increase their pay.

La Center teachers received a 7.6% raise in 2018. Though the official numbers weren’t available as of press deadline, the last offer from the district published Aug. 21 had a 9% increase in teacher pay, which would have set the district salary range from $48,403 for a teacher fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree to $92,515 for one with 16 or more years of experience and either a master’s degree with an additional 90 course credit hours or a doctorate.

According to information provided by the district, the union’s offer had $50,179 for the least experienced teachers and $94,579 for most experienced for the 2019-2020 school year, and a $51,684 to $97,416 spread for 2020-2021.

LCEA members declined to talk about exact numbers of their demands during the Aug. 22 event at Holley Park, instead stressing they wanted the salaries to be more in line with nearby districts. Both Bounds and Eiesland pointed to pay equity as the reason for the continued bargaining. Bounds compared La Center to other districts in the region such as Woodland and Hockinson, which according to information from LCEA had pay scales that topped out at about $7,000 and more than $9,000 more than La Center’s highest pay grade.

Eiesland explained that having comparable salaries would allow the district to be competitive when attracting new talent, noting that currently the district has a greater proportion of more experienced teachers than others.

“As (teachers) retire we need to be able to attract new teachers and get a wage comparable to like-sized districts so that teachers want to come to La Center and they can afford to come to La Center,” Eiesland said.

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