Contract negotiations between the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association and the Borough School District continue, and at Monday night’s school board meeting, teachers rallied and spoke to the Board about their concerns in crafting a new labor agreement.
The negotiations went into non-binding at the beginning of October and since then, teachers have remained organized, focusing their efforts on public testimony at this week’s school board meeting.
“Our purpose at the rally and at the board meeting was quite simply to show the school board…that we were serious about supporting our last best offer,” said LaDawn Druce, President of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.
District employees represented by KPEA have been operating under a temporary contract since June 30th when the previous agreement expired. Their proposal includes a cost-of-living increase, called the consumer price index, or CPI, of 2.8 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year, based on what other comparable schools are doing around the state.
“We do fall below the average teacher’s salary in those districts, and we pay almost twice as much as the nearest comparable, which in this regard would be Fairbanks, on a monthly basis in health care,” Druce said.
The monthly cost for health care for teachers is $1,445, according to Druce. KPEA has proposed a cost sharing arrangement whereby the district would contribute 85 percent and employees would cover the remaining 15 percent whenever costs rise above that amount. Currently, the district and employees share the cost evenly.
The amount paid currently by employees for health care is actually lower than in comparable districts which she says reflects an successful efforts to keep those costs under control. She says other means of lowering costs, such as wellness plans, are an option, but not a priority.
“We are certainly not against those, however, wellness plans take a long time to recoup any sustainable benefits,” Druce said. ”Our main drive is the 85-15 and the elimination of the 50-50.”
At Monday’s meeting, extra time was allotted for public testimony and Druce estimated more than 150 teachers and supporters showed up for the meeting and the rally held prior. She expects a non-binding decision to be made by the arbitrator by December, at which point the two sides will meet again. If an agreement isn’t made at that time, the employees could potentially vote to go on strike.