The Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education met in special session last night with one main issue to deal with, whether to offer contracts to 63 non-tenured teachers.
The board voted unanimously to do that and assistant superintendent John O’Brien says he expects more contracts will be offered as there will likely still be retirements and resignations heading into the summer.
“We’re very pleased we were able to come forward this evening and provide some certainty for teachers who are in this position. That will help greatly in ensuring we have classrooms that have quality teachers in them to start the school year. I applaud the board for taking this move despite some of the fiscal uncertainties that still remain out there with the (legislative) special session and exactly what our revenue will be for next year.”
But members of the school district’s employees unions have gone more than a year without a contract and now, are threatening to strike. Dave Brighton is president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.
“I think the board has done well. They passed a budget that assumed full funding from the state and that took some courage. So I commend them for that and I commend them for the willingness to schedule a meeting after the last day of the legislative session to immediately try to get as many contracts out as they can. The school board is doing the right thing in a lot of areas, I just with they could see the frustration and the stress caused by going a full school year now without a contract.”
Health care costs have been the main sticking point in contract negotiations since the beginning. Employees were willing to switch to a higher deductible plan but would want the savings to the district to go to salary increases. The negotiations went to arbitration in February.
“The arbitrator came back and said that she felt like we should get our modest salary increases, but she didn’t recommend any changes. And that was disappointing because that was kind of what, in my mind, we had asked her to come and do is find middle ground between the associations and the school district."
Brighton says the cost to employees for their health care plans will go up by more than a third.
“Right now, the projection is that our traditional health care plan will be over $1,000 a month next year and this year, it’s a little over $600. Employees are willing to take on a higher deductible...In the fall, many of our members opted into a high deductible plan. That created about $1.2 million savings for the school district. We believe we could save an additional million dollars if we terminated the traditional plan and moved everyone onto the high deductible plan, which was our last offer, and the district refused to do that.”
He says no one is looking forward to a strike, but the ball is in the district’s court to make a better contract offer. O’Brien says it’s too early to be talking about a strike.
“I’m hopeful that as everything settles down, the school year closes, we’re able to take a little bit of a break and throughout the summer, continue to work with our associations on having an agreement prior to the start of the school year, so that we can all be focused on instruction and getting ready and excited for a new school year, not worried about whether or not we’re going to have school on certain days because of a strike.”
For some seniors, the school year is already over. The fall term begins on August 20th.