District contract cost figures called 'worst-case scenario' by president of union

Teachers' raises could cost $10 million

Posted: Friday, March 15, 2002

The first contract proposal the teachers' union brought to the negotiating table would cost the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District more than $10 million, district officials say.

The administrative negotiating team introduced its preliminary, partial analysis at Wednesday's negotiating session between the district and the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.

At issue is a new contract to replace the current three-year contract, which expires at the end of June.

The employees are seeking about a 9 percent increase in wages across the salary schedule plus more benefits.

The district has offered a wage freeze.

Each side is calling the other's salary proposal unreasonable, but contract talks have not yet gotten to that sensitive topic.

"When they do this costing, they have to do a worst-case scenario," said Hans Bilben, president of the KPEA, when asked about the accuracy of the district's numbers.

School board member Joe Arness, speaking for the district team, passed out the draft document Wednesday morning.

The union team has not completed its costing, Bilben said.

School board president Dr. Nels Anderson said that in the nine years he has been on the board, this is the largest raise employees have ever asked for.

Past requests have added up to about 10 percent of personnel costs, he said.

When all the benefits are added in, the KPEA proposal would increase teaching personnel costs by 24 percent, the district said.

Bilben had a different take on it.

"Salaries have been flat for going on 15 years. ... The district's proposal to remain with no increase for the next three years is a very unrealistic proposal," he said.

He noted that fine print in the district proposal cuts out some longevity payments now available. For example, it would cut his pay by 2 percent, he estimated.

"It's not just a freeze, it's a rollback. Obviously we are not prepared to take a rollback."

The district looked at how the union's proposed salary and benefits would change average costs. In addition to salaries, it factored in insurance, retirement, leave and other related payroll costs. The total difference between the current expenditure and the proposed outlay came out to about $10.3 million.

Both sides cautioned that the number is preliminary.

Anderson noted that the analysis excluded other, smaller proposals that also would cost the district money.

Bilben noted that it excluded potential savings such as those from the newly announced retirement program. (See related story, page A-1.)

The union's ideas on how the district could cut costs elsewhere to fund the pay hikes will be presented later, he said.

The district will receive less money next year due to legal constraints on funding, static state support and decreasing enrollment. At the same time the employees are looking for additional money, the district is trying to bridge a projected $1.4 million budget gap.

A $2 million windfall the borough assembly approved Tuesday will be a one-time payment and, although it might plug this year's gap, it will not assist in future years.

Anderson stressed that the district administrators and school board would love to give the teachers and support employees more.

"I think teachers nationwide are terribly underpaid," he said. "Unfortunately, that is not the issue."

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