School District, union reach tentative agreement

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The Lebanon Community School District and the Lebanon Education Association – the union that represents LCSD counselors, deans, teachers, nurses and other staff – reached a tentative agreement for the 2023-25 contract after they met for a bargaining session on Nov. 15. LEA members have been working without a contract for almost five months.

“We headed into Wednesday’s bargaining session with a new proposal that we felt was much closer to LEA’s requests,” LCSD Director of Communications Susanne Stefani said. “Our staff deserve more than the district can possibly afford, but our school board understood that we needed to be creative – and in better alignment with districts of comparable size so that educators continue to choose this community.”

Main concerns centered around four areas: class size, competitive wage, health insurance and student behavior.

“Our state funding model is inadequate to support the level of services our schools must provide and we hope to see that change,” LCSD School Board Chair Tom Oliver said. “Meanwhile, we needed to offer employees a better arrangement. We want educators to make a long-term commitment to this district and its students.”

A room full of union members listen to updates during the bargaining session.

Union President and Bargaining Committee Chair Bonita Randklev said salary and insurance are always issues on the table during negotiations. This year, staff who have maxed-out on the pay scale are finding their insurance costs rising, so ultimately they are taking home less this year than they were last year.

A press release from LCSD stated the tentative contract would give licensed employees a retroactive cost of living increase of 7% this school year and 4% in 2024-2025. The district added longevity stipends, made salary schedule adjustments and increased its insurance contributions.

“Our other major (concerns) were around class size limits and around the process for student behaviors and getting students extra support, and what we would call ‘disruptive learning,’ which is students who have regulation issues and are behavior issues to the point of distracting the rest of everybody else in a class,” she said.

The tentative agreement includes (salary insurance), and limitations or guidelines around class size. Kindergarten through third grades will have the smallest class sizes, and the size gets larger as the level progresses to high school.

“If we go beyond (the class size limits), then the students and teachers will get access to additional resources,” Randkev said.

That might be extra teacher aides, or more Chrome books, prep time or other resources as needed, she said. LEA members are expected to vote on the agreement some time after Thanksgiving before it could be ratified by the School Board.

The press release stated that both sides agreed upon language pertaining to prep time, class size and student behavior.

“The momentum on Wednesday was impressive,” Stefani said. “I think both sides were eager to get this settled and also really willing to listen to one another. Representatives on both teams adjusted, made concessions and talked through solutions on the spot; it was really great to see, especially since it is our students who ultimately benefit from this agreement.”

“I think that our bargaining committee feels fairly satisfied with the tentative agreement we came to, but I won’t know for sure until I take it to a vote of the membership,” Randklev said. “This has taken a really long time. It’s been kind of an uphill situation between our two sides.”