Negotiations continue between the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its teachers and employees unions. Teachers and staff went to work in August without new contracts and the two sides were stuck mainly on health care costs. Another meeting Wednesday night didn’t provide much forward movement.
How much of the health care tab the school district should pick up is a major sticking point in this round of contract negotiations between the district, the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association.
“More of our paycheck is going into health care. And if we could address that concern, that would go a long way to finding a good solution," said KPEA President Dave Brighton.
Good solutions to rising health care costs have been exceedingly hard to come by, whether you’re a school district, the federal government or working for yourself. But teachers and support staff have been at work without a new contract since the beginning of the year.
Much of the debate now is about simply how to get through the next fiscal year, which will be either much easier or much more difficult depending on what happens at the legislature. The associations rejected a proposal from the district to use some one-time money to give a $500 boost to employees. Brighton says that doesn’t go far in addressing the ongoing problem of health care costs.
“The whole reason we want to adjust the salary schedule is to offset inflation. So if we accept one time funding, it means that next year we get a bigger decrease in our buying power. Our bigger concern this year in negotiations is addressing health care costs and it doesn’t look like the proposal they passed over addresses health care at all.”
Costs of the district’s health care plan have shifted in the past few years, with employees picking up a larger share of the cost. Part of a package offer from the associations was a switch by all employees to a high-deductible plan. District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says switching to a different plan altogether is an option, but they don’t yet know if it would save any money.
“Both the associations and the district in current bargaining have requested a quote from the Public Education Health Trust to see if changing health insurance plans could reduce health insurance costs to both the district and its employees. We’re hoping that quote will be available later this month and be compared to our current self-insured plan that we have for health care in the district.”
The district is considering its response to the offer on the table from the associations, due by October 31st. In addition to the health care questions, the salary increases proposed could end up costing jobs if new revenue doesn’t come from the state and borough.
“There is concern from the district’s perspective that the increase of $2.5 million during the current school year with further increases over the next two years of a three year offer...would definitely result in further reductions in staffing and programs with one result being a higher pupil-teacher ratio," Erkeneff said.
If a deal can’t be reached after this latest round of mediation, the two sides could go into arbitration in February.