Contract talks resume

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2002

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has completed an internal investigation of an e-mail security breach. As a result, three central peninsula teachers face internal discipline; the actions of one of the three is being investigated by Soldotna police; and the district has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.

Nevertheless, the parties returned to the bargaining table Thursday to continue postponed teacher and support staff contract negotiations delayed by the investigation.

The negotiations were postponed last month, after the district reported that several confidential e-mail messages between school board members and senior administrators had been intercepted. Fearing the integrity of good faith bargaining had been breached, the school district, with the agreement of both union teams, chose to complete an investigation before continuing contract talks.

According to superintendent Donna Peterson, the district completed its internal investigation this week, finding that three central peninsula teachers had enough involvement in the situation to warrant at least internal discipline.

That discipline could range from days off without pay to a letter in the teacher's file to termination of employment. Peterson declined to identify those involved and the degree each would be disciplined due to personnel confidentiality.

She said, however, the alleged actions of one of those three teachers was severe enough to warrant criminal investigation as well.

The case was forwarded to the Soldotna Police Department and is under investigation.

Sgt. Tod McGillivray said the individual is being investigated for criminal use of a computer -- a class C felony that carries a fine of up to $50,000 and up to five years in jail.

"Basically, the suspect was obtaining e-mails of other people under false pretenses," McGilli-vray said.

He added that he hopes to complete his investigation by early next week, and that charges could then be forwarded to the district attorney's office.

In addition to disciplining those involved, the school district also has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency.

The complaint states that at least two members of the KPEA accessed confidential e-mails by typing school board members' names and passwords into a district computer.

The district alleges those e-mails contained statements about the district's bargaining positions and were passed on to KPEA leaders who were actively involved in the negotiation process.

The district's complaint states that these actions not only violated state and federal law and district policy, but also constituted unfair bargaining practices.

The complaint asks that the KPEA be held responsible for the costs of the investigation, legal fees and placing KPEA members on administrative leave.

It also asks that the agency consider extending the current contract for one year.

Jean Ward, of the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, said the complaint is under investigation. She did not specify when the investigation will be completed.

The complaint caused a rocky start for contract negotiations Thursday morning.

Prior to the meeting, Dave Larson, spokesperson for KPEA, said, "From the perspective of the KPEA bargaining team, we don't believe (the e-mail situation) has any bearing on the negotiations. The KPEA has always and will continue to bargain in good faith with the district.

"We believe it's essential that these negotiations continue because it's not only in the interest of our bargaining until, but also in the best interest of our community, and especially our children."

Larson raised the issue at the beginning of Thursday's meeting, however, saying that he thought all questions of the association's involvement had been cleared up at the last negotiating session.

"I was told that my integrity and the integrity of my teammates was not being questioned," he told the district's bargaining team. "I feel lied to."

He also asked if the labor complaint was an indication that the district did not want to proceed with the negotiations.

After a 15-minute closed caucus, the district team returned to the table with a response statement.

"We are not here to talk about the e-mail investigation," read district spokesperson and school board member Joe Arness.

"Our very presence indicates that we don't question your integrity."

The teams spent the remainder of the day working through nonfinancial contract issues point-by-point.

KPEA contract issues covered included staff notification of job openings, instructional freedom, employee evaluation and discipline procedures and the rights of teachers hired late in the year.

Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association issues included in-service training days, unpaid leave and use of sick time.

While the sides went back and forth on several of the points, breaking into caucuses to revise proposals and debating some items at the table, most of the issues addressed were approved by both sides.

The parties carefully avoided any financial contract issues Thursday, planning instead to start tackling pay scales and health benefits at their next session.

Those issues may prove difficult to resolve, as union members are seeking more health care benefits and a cost-of-living pay raise, while the district is proposing holding the line financially due to possible budget cutbacks.

The teams will meet next on May 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The current contracts for the teachers and support staff unions expire June 30.

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