School district begins staff negotiations

Talks get going

Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2006

Contract talks have begun among the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its teachers and support staff, but don’t expect the process to be the same this time around.

Before actual negotiations started, the school district and representatives of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association got together last week for training in Interest Based Bargaining.

IBB, a form of negotiating new to the district and its employee organizations, is designed to have the groups reach agreement by consensus.

Schools Superintendent Donna Peterson said highly contentious negotiations three years ago are a “very large reason” why the district and the associations decided to use the IBB process this year.

“All of us agreed we didn’t ever want to do that again,” she said of the heated 16-month bargaining process the parties endured between January 2002 and April 2003 before reaching an agreement.

When asked if a mediator would need to be brought in if the IBB process fails, Peterson said, “We believe (IBB) will work.

“Everybody seems very committed to the process,” she said.

Training for the negotiating method was presented to the groups by Seattle-based federal mediator Rick Oglesby, who coached them to practice active listening skills, open dialogue, share information, offer solutions and seek an interest-based agreement in order to reach a consensus.

According to school district spokesperson Debbie Stewart, this is the first time the district and its employee associations have used the IBB method.

In a printed statement issued Tuesday, the school district said the IBB process starts with identifying interests and leads to the joint development of proposals, rather than the traditional bargaining method in which management and union negotiators offer proposals and then ask each other to justify their positions.

“With IBB, the emphasis is on exploring the interests of the parties and how (they can) be reconciled,” the statement said.

During last week’s meetings, the bargaining groups already tentatively agreed on 30 of 75 teacher articles and 12 of 35 articles of KPESA, which represents secretaries, custodians, teacher aids and tutors.

The groups also established some ground rules for conducting negotiations and agreed negotiations will be closed to the public. All information coming out of bargaining sessions is to be jointly released, they said.

“It’s much better to all be working together,” Peterson said.

Although the groups have not set up a regular weekly schedule for meetings, bargaining will continue until mid-May, Stewart said.

The three groups did meet in a closed session Tuesday.

Current contracts run through the end of the 2005-06 school year.

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