School teachers and support staff employees in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District voted this week to ratify their new contracts.
Individual members of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association accepted a tentative contract as agreed to by their union representatives in final-hour negotiations last month.
According to KPEA president Hans Bilben, almost all association members voted. Ninety-seven percent of the KPEA votes approved the contract for that association, and 94 percent of the KPESA votes were in favor of the contracts.
The contracts now will go to the school board for approval. Though the board was scheduled to vote on the contracts at its meeting this Monday, the meeting has been canceled due to an expected lack of a quorum. A special meeting will be held at 7 p.m. April 11 in the assembly chambers in the Borough Building in Soldotna. The board will vote on the approval of the contracts at that time.
"It's not over until it's over, but it's moving along," Bilben said. "I think under the circumstances, the membership feels it's a fair contract. Obviously there are things we'd like to see in there that aren't in there, but that's the way the negotiation process goes."
Upon hearing the news of the vote, Superintendent Donna Peterson responded with a quick, "Great."
"We are please with the outcome and thrilled that it's positive," she said. "We'll be taking it to the special school board meeting, and we're hoping for a positive reaction there, as well."
The employees have been without contracts since the previous ones expired July 1. Negotiating teams from both associations and from the district worked to settle the dispute for months, but met with several roadblocks.
The negotiations went before a federal mediator in September, but the mediation process failed to yield positive results. The contracts were scheduled to go before an arbitrator in March, but bargaining teams returned to the table for a last-ditch effort Feb. 27.
Teams met for 17 hours that day to settle the dispute, walking away at 3 a.m. Feb. 28 with a tentative agreement. That agreement finally went before the associations' members this week, and a final vote was tallied Tuesday night.
The tentative agreement provides a 2 percent salary increase each year for both associations. The contracts also eliminate tier two, a secondary pay schedule, which provides lower salaries for employees with comparable experience but less time in the district. The bottom level of the salary schedules for both associations also will disappear in the second year, meaning beginning wages will increase across the board.
In the health care portion of the contracts, the district agreed to increase its contributions throughout the contract term and to allow employee contributions to drop to $75 per month per employee from $100. If health care costs exceed the combined district and employee contributions, the district and employees will split the remaining costs in half.
The health care section also includes a "Juneau clause," which dictates that 10 percent of any additional funding from the state will go toward reducing health care payments, and a $20,000 designated fund to allow the district's health care committee to look for less expensive alternatives to the program.
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