Kenai teachers press for contract

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- With a deadline looming for arbitration in salary talks, Kenai Peninsula teachers are taking a ''work to rules'' action this week, cutting out unpaid work hours to put pressure on the local School District.

But even as the job action got under way Monday, both sides in the talks said they were encouraged by recent informal talks. A formal meeting of the negotiating teams may take place Thursday, both sides said.

Kenai Peninsula teachers and district officials haven't met officially since November, when they joined in an unsuccessful effort at mediation, said Hans Bilben, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents the region's 700 teachers.

If the talks fail, nonbinding arbitration is scheduled for March 12-14. Teachers have said they could call a strike after arbitration concludes.

District support staffers are also in contract talks.

This week, normal education activities shouldn't be disrupted by teachers who choose to join the job action, said Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent for administrative services for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

But Bilben said teachers will have to reorganize their lesson plans to allow for grading assignments in class. Teachers won't stay after school to work on papers or take stacks of homework home for grading, he said.

Under the work to rules action, teachers would work only the hours called for in their old contracts -- arriving half an hour before students and leaving half an hour after students are dismissed.

''We felt we needed to bring attention to the fact that we're working a lot of extra time and we deserve a fair contract,'' he said.

The sides have been far apart in the salary talks, with teachers saying it's time to make up for years of stagnant wages. Negotiations got off to a rocky start, each side accusing the other of unfair practices.

The stalemate has takes place as the district faces a budget crisis, due to falling enrollment and state aid. Current plans call for the district to lay off nearly 60 nontenured teachers next year and increase pupil-teacher ratios.

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