The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its teachers’ and employees’ unions have reached a tentative contract agreement. Negotiations had been going on for the last 14 months and all parties seem to be satisfied with the terms.
Salary and health care were the biggest issues up for debate in the ongoing contract negotiations. As it states in the tentative agreement, in the first year of the contract, which technically started in 2012, the district will pick up 80 percent of health care costs. Employees and teachers will cover the remaining 20. By the second year, the district’s share stretches to 83 percent with a final share in the last year of the three-year agreement standing at 85 percent. The current split is 50/50. Dependents of employees will now be covered under this new agreement.
As far as salary goes, employees will see a two percent pay increase each year if the contract is approved. And again, that will be applied to their contracts retroactively. These provisions were adopted from recommendations made by an arbitrator in December after all parties were unable to move forward with negotiations.
LaDawn Druce is president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. She said the bargaining team initially went to the district with a request for a 2.2 percent salary bump, which she said fell in line with a cost of living increase, and a 90/10 split for health care. Druce said both teachers and employee associations used statewide data to get a picture of how the borough school district compared.
“We used data from comparable districts: Anchorage, MatSu Valley, Juneau and Fairbanks. We were showing that in these other districts, over time our salaries have not kept up, and we’re definitely paying more in health care. So we were using that as one of the key foundation points for making our case in arbitration,” she said.
Druce said all association members will now have a chance to vote on the tentative contract. She said electronic voting through the KPEA website should speed up the process and those results will likely be available April 7. Druce said there will be area-wide meetings to explain what’s in the contract so all members can make an informed decision.
“Here’s the contract, we put it online, and we’ve sent it out to members. It’s available to them and here’s the synopsis of the changes. However, we’ve been living this for 14 months,” she said. “These people, even though many of them have followed it very faithfully, may still have questions about it. And we don’t believe it’s fair to ask them to take a vote prior to our being able to answer those questions in a face-to-face way.”
Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said he is glad an agreement was made and is looking forward to moving on. One important next step is going through the district’s finances to make any necessary adjustments.
“With regard to the next school year coming up, we will need to do a budget adjustment. But we have been preparing for that. With regard to the current school year, we did budget for what we expected the retroactivity to be. We won’t really know that full number until we run all the retroactive payroll. And that is a complicated endeavor. It’s not a casual thing that we can just do overnight,” Atwater said.
Druce said she would like to see some changes in the way the negotiation process works during the next round of contract talks, which is only two years away. Atwater said he plans to speak with Druce and Support Association President Margie Warner about how to move forward.
“Just reflecting back now that the process is over, and are there things that we can do differently? Is there a way to streamline things? Certainly dragging it out for 14 months was frustrating for both sides. And I think there’s probably a way that we can frontload things by dealing with language issues perhaps during the upcoming two years before bargaining so that we tighten things up in terms of a timeline,” he said.
Atwater said it’s possible the school board could call a special meeting to approve the contracts if the members of both associations ratify the agreement. Otherwise approval would wait until the board’s regular meeting in May.