The Livermore Education Association's (LEA) quest to receive a compensation increase continues with another negotiation meeting with the district set for this week.
The teachers union has asked the school district for a 10.9% ongoing increase in an effort to make Livermore's compensation more comparable to neighboring districts and in turn attract more new teachers and retain the existing ones.
LEA President Aimee Thompson and Vice President Eileen Greenlee told Livermore Vine that teacher salaries in Livermore rank lower than several nearby districts including the Tri-Valley cities of Pleasanton, Dublin and San Ramon.
"The sticking point – the point of disagreement in negotiations – seems to be whether or not (increased) compensation is needed to retain and attract teachers in the district," Thompson said. "LEA feels that ranking 14 out of 19 neighboring districts has created difficulty for our district in attracting and retaining teachers and it's not a desirable position to be in during a teacher shortage," she added.
Superintendent Chris Van Schaack noted that the district agrees with LEA that salaries play a key role in bringing educators to Livermore. However, he said there are also other aspects of importance such as working conditions and community support.
"Working conditions include class size, access to necessary materials, and support systems for struggling students. Livermore has had good success in attracting strong candidates because we offer a great place to work and the community is a great place to live," Van Schaack told Livermore Vine in an email. "The entire nation is dealing with a teacher shortage, but we believe we will still have strong interest for open positions," he added.
The results of a new District Readiness Index showed Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) outperformed other Tri-Valley districts by being the only one to receive an overall rating of "strong foundations" based on its performance in a number of different categories.
However, the one area that LVJUSD ranked particularly low was in the workplace category. The district received a "few foundations" rating in two measures within this section for a lack of contract bonuses and for its teachers' midpoint salaries failing to be equal or greater than the statewide average for similar districts.
According to Van Schaack, one point that both the district and LEA agree on is the validity of the need to increase teacher compensation. "Our District recognizes that educators have historically and are currently underpaid for the value they bring to our community. We are in agreement with all our employee groups that they need to be paid more," he said.
He explained that timing is a significant factor in the current discussions with LEA.
"Part of the difficulty we face at the moment arises from the timing of LEA’s demands. LVJUSD and LEA agreed on a contract for 2022-2023 last May and the Trustees adopted a budget for the year based on those costs," Van Schaack said. "We are now roughly half-way through the school year and are operating on the adopted budget with a supplement of one-time funding from the state. We have allocated some of the one-time funding to our employees in the form of a 3% increase. That brings the pay raise in the current year to 7%."
LEA, however, feels that time is of the essence in making this decision as the hiring period for new teachers is quickly approaching. "Our concern is that our compensation needs to be improved before hiring season for teachers starts, which is typically around March," Thompson said.
Greenlee echoed similar sentiments, noting that other districts are also recruiting and it's important for Livermore to be competitive.
"Because the teacher shortage is not just in Livermore – it's everywhere – what we are hearing from some of our members is that they are being recruited by friends or former colleagues or people who work in other districts and they are being heavily recruited to those districts," she said, adding that in her 21 years of experience in education she has not seen this phenomenon occurring at the level that is currently happening.
Like the neighboring Pleasanton Unified School District, LVJUSD has a "me too" clause in bargaining, which is another factor in considering the increase rate LEA is asking for.
"Any additional pay raise to the LEA membership must, as a matter of contract, be given to all district employees," Van Schaack explained. "We estimate that the current LEA demand would require an additional increase in payroll of $9.5 million ongoing dollars. We simply do not have the money available at the present time to meet LEA’s demands. We can work with our employee groups to identify areas to reduce spending for 23-24, but that won’t help us with the current year."
Due to not having a large reserve fund, the district maintains that in order to free up money to increase compensation, reductions would need to be made in other areas such as class sizes and specialized education programs.
While the district has shared its perspective on many of these issues in the ongoing discussions with LEA, Thompson said they have not been provided data to better illustrate the district's concerns.
"Going back to looking at the funding per student that we receive, we're comparable to Pleasanton and Dublin so we don't understand why we need to rank so far below their compensation package. So, we have asked to see the data," Thompson said, adding that at their next negotiation meeting, they hope to see some numbers on class sizes and staffing ratios.
In a previous interview, Thompson told Livermore Vine that the district and the union have historically had a good relationship and have been able to work together to solve problems in a peaceful, uncontroversial manner. Because of this harmonious rapport, both sides have expressed optimism about the direction of their negotiations.
"LVJUSD wants to pay our employees every dime we have available, provided that any increase would not bankrupt our district or result in the elimination of programs that we believe are critical to student success," Van Schaack said.
He continued, "We do not want to repeat the experience of the state taking over our finances and we’re sure LEA would agree. We are working through an extremely thorough analysis of our budget to determine where we can become more efficient or adjust our priorities. Though the budget for the current year is firmly in place, including a 7% salary increase, we have the ability to create a 23-24 budget that further addresses employee compensation."
The next negotiation session between LVJUSD and LEA is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday (Jan. 11).