After several weeks of negotiations, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) and the Livermore Education Association have reached a tentative agreement regarding teacher salary increases for the current school year as well as 2023-24.
The district and the union have agreed upon a 3% ongoing salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2022 and an additional 6% salary increase beginning March 1, 2023.
For the 2023-24 school year, they will receive an additional 3% starting July 1 of this year with contingency language that could add an increase greater than 3% if additional money is made available through either an increase in revenue or a decrease in expenses.
"I think this was very challenging but I think that both sides worked very diligently to understand the perspective of the other side," LEA President Aimee Thompson told the Weekly. "I think both sides worked very diligently to try to understand the data that was presented and in working through and trying to understand each other, we were able to come to agreement. And, I think because of the challenging nature of this process, we now have better understanding for a longer term goal and process to not only make us competitive right now, in this moment, but to maintain that competitiveness in some restructuring of the budget planning process," she added.
LEA vice president Eileen Greenlee agreed with Thompson and added that the fact that Livermore had fallen so far behind other districts in compensation generated more interest and engagement from LEA's members as well as the broader community.
Another piece of the puzzle, according to Thompson and Greenlee, was navigating working together with new members of the district's negotiating team.
The new agreement is tentative pending ratification by LEA's membership and approval by the Board of Education.
LEA's initial request for a 10.9% ongoing salary increase for the current school year was sparked by Livermore teacher salaries ranking significantly below other similar, neighboring districts and the union's concern that if their compensation was not improved, Livermore would struggle to attract and retain educators -- an issue further exacerbated by the nationwide teacher shortage.
"Livermore has been a place that has been very attractive to job candidates over the years, and we anticipate that it will remain that way," LVJUSD Superintendent Chris Van Schaack said. "We also took very seriously the concerns expressed by our teachers that they feared their colleagues would leave for higher paying jobs in neighboring districts. We think this new salary schedule is a step in the right direction, though we also acknowledge that there is work to be done to stay competitive."
Prior to agreeing to the new salary schedule, Livermore ranked 14 out of 19 nearby districts including the Tri-Valley cities of Pleasanton, Dublin and San Ramon as well as Brentwood, Fremont and Hayward, among others.
Under the new agreement -- when the additional 6% is implemented in March -- Livermore will rank sixth out of those 19 districts.
Van Schaack also addressed the obstacles in reaching the agreement.
"I have participated in negotiations with our district teams for 15 years, and each year brings its own set of challenges that usually stimulate our creative thinking," Van Schaack said.
He noted that while both teams were in agreement about the need for developing a more competitive salary schedule amid the nationwide teacher shortage, the timing of LEA's request presented a hurdle initially because the district had already created and had been operating on a balanced budget for the year.
"By reprioritizing some of our one-time funds we were able to free up money in the short-term and we will be working with all parties to modify our budget to put more of a focus on competitive compensation in the long-term," Van Schaack said.
One of the sticking points in the process from the district's perspective was the ability to afford a compensation increase without affecting other areas such as class sizes or programs. Van Schaack said that at this time, classroom sizes are not expected to be impacted as a result of this new agreement.
"We do not anticipate having to modify our contract language around class size," Van Schacck said.
He continued, "Current targets are 24 students per class in TK-3; 30 in 4-5; and 30 in 6-12. Those targets will remain in place. Coming out of covid, we added staff to help transition students back to full-time in-school learning and to help mitigate any learning loss. We will likely scale back a little bit in those areas. We are looking primarily for modifications to our operations that do not have significant impact on student achievement."
Pending LEA's ratification vote -- which is set for next week -- the district plans to take the tentative agreement to the school board for approval at its Feb. 21 meeting.