If they do their jobs exactly the way they are supposed to, according to the letter of their contract instructions, all heck will break lose.
That is the bet some irate employees of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are making.
"It is meant to call attention to all we do," said Karen Mahurin, school secretary at Sears Elementary School in Kenai and president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, the union representing support employees.
It is not, she stressed, meant to harm students in any way.
Starting April 4, employees at two schools began intermittently "working to the rule." This job action is designed to raise awareness that the public gets far more than it pays for out of its public school employees.
Working to the rule means teachers' work days will begin 30 minutes before the first class bell and end 30 minutes after students are dismissed. Teachers will take their 30-minute, duty-free lunch breaks. Support employees will work their assigned shifts and take the breaks mandated by law.
For nearly all school staff, that will mean a dramatic decrease in their work. It will also mean cuts in after-school activities, phone calls not returned and backlogs of ungraded papers.
"Some of these kinds of extras we do because we care for the kids," Mahurin said.
The intent is to justify the district employees' demands, via their bargaining units, for raises in contract talks now under way with the district administration.
School board member Joe Arness, who heads the administration's negotiating team, opposes the action.
"The union has a right to take a series of job actions," he said. "I think they are making a huge mistake. ... I don't think the community is going to like it very much."
Hans Bilben, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, the union that represents teachers, said North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, near Arness' home, was the first to opt for working to the rule.
The staff sent home a letter warning parents of the impending changes. Some people were not pleased.
"It wasn't intended to be political," Bilben said. "They were trying to be up front."
North Star is working to the rule one day per week, with the particular day changing from week to week.
Skyview High School near Soldotna also began work to the rule April 4. Wednesday it sent out a notice that staff will work to the rule each Thursday and Friday for the rest of April.
"Most buildings in the district are in the process of doing something to show their solidarity to the bargaining team and to stand up for schools. Soldotna Middle, North Star El, Skyview and I heard Kenai Central are organizing something," said Skyview teacher Greg Zorbas.
"I have said this before: This is not just about fair compensation for the job we do. But it is about the whole education system not keeping up."
At Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna, the employees took another tack, starting to log the hours they really work during the school day and adding the information to the weekly newsletter.
Other schools, as well, are considering work to the rule or other variants of the job action.
Bilben said each school's own employees decide what, if anything, they will do.
"Working to the contract is very difficult for teachers," he said.
Zada Friedersdorff, a teacher at Redoubt, is a past president of the KPEA. She recalled a work-to-rule action in the late 1980s, when the district employees were in their second year without a contract.
"It was extremely difficult," she said.
Back then, district employees worked to the rule every day for several weeks.
"Is it a bad thing? No," she said. "It shouldn't hurt anyone if we are still doing our job that we are paid to do -- should it?"
Union leaders predicted more job actions.
"I suspect it will go on until we have a contract in hand," Bilben said. "I would suspect things will escalate depending on how negotiations go."
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.