Board approves Kenai school contracts

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2003

KENAI (AP) Kenai Peninsula Borough teachers and support staffers finally have new contracts.

Ending a heated 16-month bargaining process, the borough school board approved contract agreements Friday for members of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association.

Now it's time to move on and tackle other challenges facing the district, board members said.

The school district has struggled to balance its fiscal year 2004 budget by the state's May 1 deadline. Now that the contracts are settled, the district can accurately predict its labor expenses, which make up about 75 percent of the general operating budget.

However, revenue remains unknown, as the Legislature has yet to agree to a budget.

Melody Douglas, the district's chief financial officer, said the contracted salary and health care increases for employees will not cause additional problems in the 2004 budget.

In the long run, however, rising labor costs may continue to put the district in a bind financially, she said

The new contracts provide a 2 percent salary increase each year for members of both unions. They also include annual step increases for each employee, based on length of time with the district.

The contracts eliminate a secondary pay schedule that provided lower salaries for newer employees. The bottom level of the salary schedules will disappear in the second year of the contract, raising beginning wages across the board, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

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.

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 that allows the district's health care committee to look for less expensive alternatives to the program.

The negotiation process began in January 2002 and was fraught with complications, including a criminal investigation, two unfair labor practices complaints and a lawsuit.

In September, after both sides declared an impasse, the contract went before a federal mediator to no avail. The process was scheduled to go to arbitration when negotiation teams met in an unorthodox last-ditch effort to settle the contracts without their lawyers.

In early March, after 17 straight hours of bargaining, the teams tentatively agreed to the contracts. Earlier this month, members of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association voted to ratify the contracts.

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