La Center teachers could strike without a new contract by next Tuesday

The district denies union allegations they’re withholding money from educators

LA CENTER — Call it an echo of the teacher strikes that plagued Washington school districts in 2018. 

Earlier this week, educators in La Center school district voted 75-1 in favor of a strike if a deal isn’t reached by Aug. 28.

Teachers in La Center could go on strike if a new contract isn’t agreed to by the first day of school on Aug. 28. Photo courtesy La Center Education Association
Teachers in La Center could go on strike if a new contract isn’t agreed to by the first day of school on Aug. 28. Photo courtesy La Center Education Association

While no one from the La Center Education Association (LCEA) has responded to multiple requests for comment, the union has made it clear they believe the district is withholding money from the state they believe was intended for teacher salaries.

Their key piece of evidence on that front resides in the fact that, after settling for a one-year contract with a 7.6 percent raise last year (6.8 percent total, or 7.8 percent for teachers who have been with the district at least 25 years), the district was still able to increase its ending fund balance going into this school year.

“Our ending fund balance is our savings account and obviously, using your savings to make ongoing payments does not work for sustainability,” said district Superintendent Dave Holmes in a letter to parents. “These dollars are for emergency situations and for the anticipated one-time costs associated with opening a new middle school.”

Holmes insists their budget not only passed along every dollar the state allocated for teacher pay last year, but kicked in an additional $649,781 in additional funding that would have otherwise gone to student programs.

“It is my goal and the goal of our board to avoid making budget decisions that simply aren’t sustainable and could force us to make future staffing reductions,” wrote Holmes. “This would hurt our district and our entire La Center community.”

The district’s most recent offer, according to Holmes, would increase teacher pay by another 9 percent this coming school year, and a total of 24 percent more over three years. Top end teachers would make $92,515 for 185 work days per year.

To do that, Holmes says the district would be pulling another $718,213 out of other programs and services, in addition to allocating all the available state funding.

But teachers say even that increase would still leave them at or near the bottom when it comes to what educators in surrounding school districts are making. Only Woodland teachers would make less, according to data released by LCEA, with a top end of $91,835. Camas is the top paying district with a starting wage of $52,868, and a top-end of just over $100,000.

On its Facebook page, LCEA says a survey of La Center teachers showed 30 percent would consider looking for work in another district in order to earn more money.

Holmes says he understands the state legislature was well intentioned with their McCleary funding fix, but La Center voters approved a new local levy earlier this year at the former cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. While the cap was increased earlier this year by a dollar, the district can’t take advantage of the higher rate without going back to the voters.

“No two districts were impacted the same way, which has resulted in widespread confusion during bargaining,” Holmes told ClarkCountyToday.com, “with neighboring districts receiving different amounts of state funding depending on a variety of complex factors.”

Over half of La Center’s teachers have 16 or more years of experience, according to Holmes. The state changed from a salary schedule funding model, to a set amount per teacher, based on the average wage statewide. In districts like La Center, with so many experienced teachers, Holmes says they’re dipping into much-reduced local levy dollars to cover the difference.

“Additionally, the La Center School District is a property poor district lacking in commercial and industrial properties that typically pay a larger portion of school levies,” adds Holmes.

Both sides have continued to meet regularly in hopes of hashing out a deal before the August 28 deadline set by the teacher’s union. 

“We are hopeful that the district can soon reunify around our collective mission of empowering students to reach their full potential,” said Holmes.

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