Like the first rumblings of an approaching storm, issues brewing for the upcoming contract negotiations between the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its teachers and support staff came to the forefront at Monday's school board meeting.
All sides have expressed anxiety that putting together new contracts will be a painful process this go-round. From the superintendent to the secretaries frustration with the stress of rising demands and declining dollars has been expressed. They fear that the gap between what teachers think they need and what the district's board and administrators think they can pay will be difficult to bridge.
Dave Carey, who teaches government at Skyview High School in addition to serving as Soldotna's mayor, told the board he feels punished by years of eroding wages. He went through his records and found that his annual pay has gone up an average of less than $250 per year.
"The $2,404 increase over 10 years becomes a large deficit when just inflation and health care deductions are factored in," he said.
Carey suggested a novel perk to ease the situation: having the borough assembly grant every school district employee a waiver from paying sales tax on items bought in the borough. Depending on where people shop, it would save them 3 to 5 percent on most purchases.
"This is not an easy solution," he said. "However, I fear the failure of the easy solution is going to strengthen the call for civil disobedience by school district employees in the very near future."
The district's three-year contracts with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association will expire at the end of June. The two unions represent the teachers and the support staff, respectively. The two unions work together on contract talks and represent most of the district's 1,100 employees. They are affiliated with the National Education Association.
The Kenai Peninsula Administrators' Association, which represents the principals, handles its affairs separately.
The district appointed its negotiating team at the meeting.
The central office administration selected Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent overseeing human resources; Richard Putney, the new personnel director; Melody Douglas, the finance director; Ken Meacham, principal of Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna; and Ron Keffer, the principal of Homer High School. School board president Dr. Nels Anderson selected the board members for the team. They are Deborah Germano, Debra Mullins and Joe Arness.
The union team will consist of six teachers: Dan Walker of Seward Middle-High School; Maggie Corbisier of Homer Middle School; Mike Boyle of Nikiski Middle-Senior High School; Tim Peterson of Kenai Middle School; Cathy Carrow of Redoubt Elementary School; and David Larson of Kenai Central High School.
The preliminary negotiation session, to set the calendar and determine how much of the proceedings will be public, is planned for Jan. 18.
The public will have an opportunity to provide feedback on the issue at the next school board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21. The regular public comment period will be extended to allow testimony on the pending contracts.
Karen Mahurin, the president of the KPESA, told the board that she is concerned about the administration's negotiating team.
She asked for more information on the role of the two principals. The principals' group also will be negotiating a contract, and she expressed concern they might have access to inside information withheld from the other employee associations.
"I am concerned this will be a tough year anyway," she said. "We don't want to do anything that could make it more negative."
In other school board business:
Athletics were the focus of several agenda items. The board voted to approve an outsourcing agreement for baseball and softball in Homer and to allow the introduction of middle school wrestling as a club sport at Voznesenka. The board also approved modifications to the Kenai Peninsula Student Activities Association handbook to clarify participation by middle school students from private schools.
Superintendent Donna Peterson reported that the technology staff has completed a project to install and upgrade computers in the district's Bush schools. Technical specialists have traveled to Tyonek, the south side of Kachemak Bay and the Russian Old Believer villages of the south peninsula installing the equipment.
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