More than 100 people packed into the room at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District meeting Monday in Soldotna.
The group, made up of teachers, staff and union supporters, spoke for more than an hour about the lack of a contract between the school district and the two unions and how they thought the board of education members could help.
“I feel like you guys wield a lot of power,” said Terri Tidwell, a member of the KPESA bargaining team. “Power that holds all of the employees and all of the students in this district at your hand.”
So many people stood to speak for themselves, or read statements submitted by other teachers and staff in the district who couldn’t attend the meeting, that Joe Arness, board president, allowed an extra 30 minute period for statements.
The district and unions have yet to come to an agreement and are currently waiting for a judgement from a non-binding arbitration meeting during the first week of October.
Buses from Seward and Homer arrived with teachers and supporters who rallied outside of the meeting before packing into the room still holding their “fair contract” signs.
Teachers and staff spoke of having to hold down second jobs to support their careers in education and the skyrocketing cost of health care.
“I have people at my church say ‘You guys make too much money.’ Well, let’s take a secretary that makes — let’s say — 16 dollars an hour. She only works nine months out of the year,” Tidwell said. “They cut back support people, hour by hour, little by little, just so we can make it up. So we can make up what we need to run the building. We take that nine months of pay and try to stretch it out to 12 months.”
Arness thanked everyone who spoke at the end of the meeting but said he was concerned at the amount of misinformation clouding the contract issues between the school district and the unions.
Board members were also told by district administration that money was tight.
Superintendent Steve Atwater told the board that the district was in the middle of its 20-day count for certified enrollment and while its numbers were close to what it had projected, there would still be close to a $2.9 million shortfall and the district would have to dip into savings.
The district’s state and federal legislative priorities were revised an approved by the board as was its strategic plan.
The school district also had to submit a district improvement plan after preliminary Adequate Yearly Progress Data given to the state suggested that the district would move from level one to level two of improvement.
Each district receiving federal Title I funding that is identified as a level two district must submit a District Improvement Plan according to information provided to the board by the administration.
The plan was due to the Department of Education and Early Development by Oct. 1 and covered a two-year period of improvements within the district according to board documents.