Students speak out about labor dispute

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

Just because teachers are not bringing their contract negotiations into the classroom doesn't mean students are not talking about them.

"A lot of students are keeping up with information, trying to stay informed," said Kenai Central High School senior and student body president Scott Kornfield.

"We were just talking about it at track practice," added KCHS junior Kylee Vienna.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is in the middle of a somewhat contentious contract negotiation process with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association. Issues facing the process include disputes over requested raises and health-care benefits.

The process also hit rough waters when the district discovered an e-mail security breach and chose to delay negotiations until the matter had been completely investigated.

"It's definitely noticeable that there's a conflict between teachers and the district," Kornfield said. "But the teachers are doing a good job devoting their time to students while still trying to get their contracts taken care of."

Vienna added, "The teachers are trying to keep it to themselves. They don't like to sway our opinions."

Still, KCHS junior Heidi Carlson said most students are in support of the teachers.

"We realize teachers aren't getting paid what they're worth," she said.

"From what I know of the contract negotiations, all they're looking for is better health benefits and a salary increase," said KCHS senior Brandon Fortney. "I'm with that. We've got some of the best teachers in the state. Teachers here have been elected for awards of excellence in their fields. That should tell you teachers are doing something right."

"I think they deserve a lot more than they're getting," Vienna added. "They spend most of their time with us. A lot stay until 5 at night, working with the kids, not just grading papers. I see teachers in here on Sundays working. I would not give up my Sunday."

Not all students expressed strong concern over the issues, though.

"I don't think we're really affected that much," said Vangie Pattison, a senior at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School. "We're all wondering what's going on. We're all trying to find out more about it, but it's just what we hear from one another."

"It's not really a big deal," added Nick Hite, also a Nikiski senior. "The teachers and administration here have always got along really well."

Other students had less positive things to say about the negotiations.

Some, for example, felt inconvenienced and cheated by the teachers "work-to-rule" days.

Teachers and support staff at many schools have chosen to work strictly contract hours on certain days of the week, meaning they do not come in early, work during lunch or stay late.

"I understand where they're coming from, but sometimes students need extra help, and the teachers aren't there," Fortney said.

KCHS principal Berry Swenson -- whose position as a school administrator keeps him out of the negotiations -- said that the two work-to-rule days were carefully planned with the students in mind.

"I have to commend my faculty," he said. "We've had two work-to-rule days, and (the teachers') leadership came into my office beforehand to make sure no students would be affected. They still truly care about the kids."

Other school administrators declined to offer any comment on the negotiations.

KCHS senior Kenneth Butler pointed out that because the work-to-rule days are rare, they don't really hurt students.

"I think a lot of students don't realize how it would affect us if they did it every day. None of the papers would get graded, there would be less time to take tests, things like that," he said.

Students also are concerned about the future of their schools.

Butler said there are rumors about a strike next fall and teachers resigning. While he said he would support a strike -- he's a senior heading to college to get his teaching certificate -- other students were less enthusiastic.

"I don't want them to (strike)," said Hope Mishler, sophomore class president at KCHS. "We'd end up paying for it later."

Vienna was most worried about teachers leaving.

"A lot of us want to move back here later. We're afraid there will be no good teachers," she said. "This is a good place -- and there are good teachers making this a good place."

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