State mediators meet with teachers, La Crosse School District to negotiate pay

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — State mediators were in La Crosse Monday to help school district teachers and administrators reach an agreement on pay. However, after the meeting Monday morning, nothing has changed.

The union is calling for a consumer-based cost of living increase of 4.7%. The district made a counter-offer of less than half that; offering teachers a 2% raise.

“We’re really challenged by that financial picture. Declining enrollment and no new state funding really impedes our ability to look at other options,” Aaron Engel, superintendent for the School District of La Crosse, said.

In addition to declining enrollment, Engel said the district is facing a $2.4 million deficit.

“Our goal is to compensate teachers as well as we can, and I think 2% will do that,” Engel said.

State mediators came to help the two parties reach an agreement– but they left with the 2% offer still intact.

“We’re going to continue to advocate for what’s best for our students,” said Jesse Martinez, president of the La Crosse Education Association. “What that means, is we’re going to continue to show the district that without fair pay, people are going to leave.”

News 8 Now contacted several, local school districts. Sparta offered its educators an increase of 4.25%. Holmen also offered its teachers a 4.7% raise– the union has yet to approve that offer. Bangor, Eau Claire, De Soto and West Salem School Districts are all offering teachers a 4.7% pay increase.

Over the past five years, Wisconsin DPI data shows that enrolment in the School District of La Crosse has dropped by 493 students.

The district is not alone. During the same time, enrollment in the larger Eau Claire School District dropped by 394 students. Up further north, Wausau, which is a similar size to La Crosse, dropped by 399.

Those districts are both offering teachers that 4.7%.

Superintendent Engel says it’s not that simple.

“It’s not a great feeling,” Engel said. “Every school district has a different financial history. We’re been experiencing declining enrolment for the last 20 years.”

Engel says that financially, the district’s hands are tied.

“Unfortunately over the past few years the state legislature has given no new money to schools. So that’s really put us in a difficult position,” Engel said.

Engel said even though the district is unable to bump wages any higher, the district still pays its teachers the highest salaries in La Crosse County.

Though the Monday meeting ended in a stalemate, Martinez says union members will continue to make their voices heard.

“We just hope that the district will… begin to really reprioritize the money that they’re spending and make sure they really value the educator that’s in front of the students,” Martinez said.

That is something both sides can agree on– doing what is best for students is priceless.

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