La Crosse teachers calling for greater pay increase from school district

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - Teachers in the School District of La Crosse are speaking out for better pay.

La Crosse Education Association (LEA) President Jesse Martinez says the district is proposing a 2% salary increase for teachers.

However, educators are countering with a 4.7% pay bump to keep in line with the growing cost of everyday expenses like gas and groceries.

“We’re talking about a cost of living increase,” Martinez explained. “We’re not talking about a raise, we’re talking about keeping up with the rate of inflation.”

Martinez has taught in the district for seven years, and says the hardships of both inflation and the pandemic haven taken a toll on teacher morale.

“We don’t feel valued, we feel like the priorities are on pretty much everything but making sure that educators feel like they are being valued,” Martinez expressed. “We don’t feel listened to, we don’t feel like we are being taken seriously as professionals.”

As teachers ask for more adequate salaries, Superintendent Aaron Engel says there’s only so much the district can do.

“We’ve got fewer dollars coming to schools from the state, and in the School District of La Crosse in particular, we’ve had declining enrollment for a number of years, which has also significantly reduced our budget,” Engel detailed.

Given the budgetary constraints, Engel says going past the 2% pay increase would come back around on students.

“If we were to add more to raises and compensation, it would look like a reduction in programs, fewer opportunities for kids, and larger class sizes,” Engel listed. “Right now, we don’t think that’s what’s best for our students.”

Despite the district holding firm on its position, the LEA is continuing to negotiate for higher pay, with Martinez hoping a middle ground can be found.

“We hope that they will value us enough to show us that their priorities are in line with keeping their teachers in front of their kids,” Martinez said.

While Engel understands the frustration of teachers, a 2% raise may be all the district can afford in the short-term.

“Our intent is to do the best we can this year, and really make structural changes in the future so that we can continue to invest in teachers to the greatest extent possible,” Engel added.

Engel says the district will likely go to referendum next fall to increase its operating budget in an effort to increase teacher pay.

The LEA would rather see a greater raise this school year, so the group is planning a day of action on June 15 to get community members involved in its cause.

LEA members will be at the La Crosse CRUE Building at 2020 Caroline Street from 2 PM-5 PM, and the community is invited to learn more about the efforts to bump up teacher salaries.

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