Personnel shifts within the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are raising some questions about the future of ongoing contract negotiations. But both union leadership and district sources insist the changes will not impact bargaining.
Tim Peterson, an eighth-grade history teacher at Kenai Middle School, was promoted to the position of director of human resources for the district last week.
"We're very excited to have Tim join our leadership team," said assistant superintendent Todd Syverson. "He has a very positive working relationship with all employees, and we feel he will be a powerful addition to the leadership team."
Peterson replaces Richard Putney, who was hired by the district last November and served as the district's spokesperson in negotiations. Putney was pulled from the bargaining table in February after his treatment of employees became a source of conflict between the teams.
Peterson has been a teacher and coach at Kenai Middle School since 1993. In the past 20 years, he also has taught at Redoubt Elementary, Nikiski Elementary and E.L. Bartlett Elemen-tary. He has served on numerous district curriculum committees, held a position as the National Education Association Alaska liaison for the Kenai Peninsula and was president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association from 1995 to 2001.
"I went out and got administration creditials 10 years ago," Peterson said. "I have a great deal of rights training, mediation training and negotiation training. It seemed like a likely step."
Peterson said his goals for the new position are identical to those he held when he worked with the KPEA -- "to put the very best personnel in front of the kids."
While Syverson said Peterson's vast experience makes him an excellent person to serve as human resources director, his involvement in KPEA negotiations raises questions.
One potential problem is that the promotion essentially moves Peterson to the other side of the bargaining table, as the human resources director typically plays a large role in negotiation procedures.
"We have grave concerns," said Phil Morin, president of the Kenai Independent Teachers Organization, a small group that has in the past challenged KPEA's representation of district teachers.
"If (superintendent) Donna Peterson is bringing an unfair labor practices complaint because one memo was intercepted, how much more concerned should the union be now that one of its key negotiators has been hired as the key negotiator for (the district), regardless of the claims that he won't be involved?" Morin asked.
KPEA leadership, however, does not seem concerned about the potential conflict.
A handful of association bargaining team members may be replaced as the school year begins because of people leaving the district. Peterson's position could be filled by an appointment from association leadership, but no such announcement has been made to date.
"I think it's a good move on his part. It's too bad you have to move away from kids to make any money in this profession, but it's a really good move for him," said KPEA President Hans Bilben. "I suspect he will not be involved in this round of negotiations -- I hope he wouldn't be."
Syverson confirmed that Peterson will not move to the district's negotiating team for this contract session, as he is privy to the associations' bargaining positions.
"He won't be able to be involved from the district perspective," Syverson said. "Because he sat on the association team, it would not be appropriate for him to have any role in the negotiations."
Peterson chuckled knowingly at the concerns.
"I spent two and half years preparing for that one," he said.
"I think the teachers have a very good team in place. I met with them before I came in, they're all aware of what's going on and I think they support it."
Peterson said he also met with the district, and it has been firmly decided that he will not be involved with either side of negotiations from this point on.
"That's the way it has to be," he said.
In other district negotiation news:
n Kenai police are investigating potential criminal charges against one of three teachers identified by a district investigation into an alleged e-mail security breach.
The district internally disciplined three teachers for involvement in the interception of confidential e-mails between school board members and senior administrators. The matter was handed over to Soldotna police for possible criminal charges against one of the teachers, but an investigation cleared that person of criminal wrong-doing.
The Soldotna investigation yielded new information, however, that was forwarded to Kenai police for investigation of a second teacher. The case is under investigation and no names have been released.
n The Alaska Labor Relations Agency continues to investigate an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the district against the KPEA regarding the e-mail break-in.
The district alleges that KPEA negotiating team members gained access to confidential information relating to negotiations, giving them an unfair advantage in bargaining.
The KPEA maintains that no contract-related information has been seen, no negotiating team member has been compromised and that the complaint is an attempt to delay the contract renewal.
n Contracts for teachers and support staff expired June 30 and rolled over until a new contract can be reached.
Both sides have agreed to try to continue negotiations before declaring an impasse, but a meeting date has yet to be set due to schedule conflicts.
Team members anticipate that negotiations will not resume until Septem-ber.
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