School District of La Crosse heading to mediation with teachers as salary negotiations stall

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - Teachers in the School District of La Crosse remain at an impasse with administration about their salaries.

For the last few months, the La Crosse Education Association (LEA) has been calling for a 4.7% salary increase instead of the 2% that’s being proposed by the district.

LEA President Jesse Martinez says the cost-of-living increase would keep up with the rising rate of inflation, and a petition in support of fair pay recently garnered over 500 signatures.

“It’s not just the employees of the school district that are in this, this is a community-wide agreement that we need to compensate our teachers fairly,” Martinez expressed.

Superintendent Aaron Engel appreciates the advocacy of the LEA, but maintains a 2% pay raise is all the district can afford at this time.

“I wish we could give the maximum we were allowed to and then some, the challenge is, simply, our finances don’t dictate it,” Engel explained. “We’re starting this school year with a $2.4 million budget deficit due to declining enrollment.”

Many teachers contend the district doesn’t have its priorities straight, with some lobbying criticism over the proposed $194.7 million referendum which may be placed on the November ballot.

The money would be used to merge Central and Logan high schools into one new building, which Engel says would actually alleviate some of the district’s budgetary challenges.

“Our consolidated facilities plan, that’s a crucial step in being able to afford wages in the future,” Engel detailed. “The plans that we have would ask for new money from our community, and along the way we’d be able to save $4.5 million a year if we went to a one new high school model.”

Teachers say they would rather see immediate action on wage increases, so discussions will be taking a new form as they continue in the coming weeks.

“We are in the process of going into mediation with the district, and having a neutral third party come in from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to look at both sides and see what we can come to an agreement on,” Martinez said.

If a middle ground can’t be reached, Engel says district administration would turn to the School Board to impose a final offer.

There’s no timetable for when such an offer may be presented to the LEA.

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