Progress found its way onto the contract negotiation table Friday following a change in the tone of talks between teacher and support union representatives and representatives from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
A lighter mood surrounded Friday's meeting when the negotiating contingent of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association sat down with the district's negotiation team to discuss respective contract proposals. With school board member -- and recently announced Alaska Senate candidate -- Joe Arness replacing Richard Putney as district spokesperson, the first steps were made toward finding some consensus.
Those involved were pleased with the new congenial mood.
"Joe, I just want to thank you for changing the tone of the negotiations," said Terri Woodward, a member of the support staff's negotiating team, midway through the meeting. "In two hours we've accomplished what we couldn't in (13). My stress level is down. I feel like a real employee, again."
In two earlier meetings to set negotiation ground rules, feelings between the two sides of the contract issue quickly soured, to a point where the district team even walked out of the second meeting. Putney, hired to direct the district's human resources, found himself embroiled in heated exchanges with union spokespeople Dave Larson and Buck George and was absent from Friday's meeting.
Larson expressed his satisfaction with the day's accomplishments.
"I'm very happy with the progress," he said. "It demonstrates how well we can work to make this process effective."
Woodward said she appreciated the difference.
"It's a 100 percent turnaround," she said. "At this stage, it is exactly what we'd expect."
George won three tentative agreements with the support union and the district representatives on proposed contract items regarding fair practices, special certificate and license reimbursement and holidays.
Similar accords were nearly struck between the district and the teacher's union, but there were minor schematics that needed to be reviewed first. It seems that district representatives found some differences in the numbering of articles in their proposal and the KPEA's proposal.
"Our intention is to look at the KPEA list and work out the numeration schemes," Arness said.
Assistant superintendent Todd Syverson declined comment about Putney's absence or its impact on the day's progress, but he said there is more that needs to be done before a tentative agreement is reached.
"We hold our employees in high regard," he said. "We do foresee (progress). Both sides need to do some more homework."
The next meeting will be March 9 at 9 a.m. at the Borough Building.
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