Terry Cramer, a Mountain View Elementary school teacher assists students as they puzzle over their first third-grade math test of the year Tuesday. Cramer has been teaching for 30 years.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
Perhaps the moment that best illustrated the success of the recently completed contract negotiations between teachers, support staff and the school district came during a work session prior to Monday’s meeting of the school board, when members of the negotiating teams from both sides sat down together at a table and smiled.
“I’m really pleased it worked out this way,” said school board president Debra Mullins during the work session. “I’m grateful our community hasn’t suffered through the events we suffered through before, and that the employees like the contract.”
Indeed, new contracts for the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association were approved by the board with motions for unanimous consent and very little discussion followed by whispers and murmurs from the gathered spectators, the gist of which were, “That’s never happened before.”
The vote stands in marked contrast to the last round of negotiating, which dragged out over more than a year and included accusations of unfair labor practices and federal mediation. While this round of negotiations did take a while, parties involved said it was worth the time and effort.
Marnie Bartolini, KPESA president, said quite a bit of time was spent discussing not the money, but the language of the contract.
“The e-mails I’ve gotten back from members have been positive,” Bartolini said. “It was the language. It’s a lot clearer to understand. If you have an article you don’t understand, it’s hard to know where you stand.”
School board members and district administrators complimented the bargaining teams for their conduct during negotiations, and commented on the positive feedback from the community regarding this round of talks.
“The reaction from folks in the community about the lack of angst is appreciated,” said superintendent Donna Peterson.
“We are a community, and I’m real proud of what we’ve done,” said school board member Marty Anderson.
While the quick approval of the new contracts brought plenty of smiles, the board did get some news of concern at Monday’s meeting. Melody Douglas, the school district’s financial officer, reported the Alaska Retirement Management Board, meeting Monday in Anchorage, significantly increased local contribution rates for 2008, to 54.03 percent for the Teachers Retirement System and 39.76 percent for the Public Employees Retirement System. By comparison, the contribution rates for 2007 are 26 percent for TRS and 21.77 percent for PERS, both 5 percent increases from 2006.
According to a press release issued by Gov. Frank Murkowski supporting the move, the estimated cost of the increase will be $504 million statewide.
The blow was somewhat softened by Murkowski’s announcement he would recommend an additional $500 million for the state retirement system for 2008, but the news drew remarks from school board Dr. Nels Anderson at the conclusion of the meeting.
“I’m not sure the general public realizes what this means,” Anderson said. “It’s scary, not only for the half a billion that will have to be thrown into the system by the Legislature, ... but it may sound the death knell for our efforts to get equity in the area cost differential.
“I think the state (retirement management) board is right in trying to quit playing games, but I’m concerned about where it’s going to go for our funding.”
In other business Monday, the board:
· Recognized Tustumena Elementary special education teacher Colleen Sinnott for her sustained excellence and her dedication to her students;
· Approved a budget transfer of $12,500 to the Assessment Department for rental of a site for storage and processing of district, state and federally mandated tests;
· Approved changes to district policy regarding annual employee tuberculosis tests, which are no longer required by statute;
· Approved an increase in mileage reimbursement to 35 cents per mile from 30 cents; and
· Approved a change to guidelines for charter schools sharing a facility, adding a paragraph to the district policy allowing charter schools to request a change to the estimated number of students, classrooms or grades taught for a school year but requiring the request to be submitted by Oct. 1 of the preceding year.
The board also voted to approve all core resolutions of the Alaska Association of School Boards, except for a resolution opposing mandated school consolidation. Board member Debbie Brown voiced her opposition to several other resolutions because she said she felt they infringed on parents’ rights and are not “consistent with the general public’s view” of those issues. Brown urged the public to review the AASB’s core resolutions, a link to which can be found in the meeting agenda in the school board page of the district’s Web site.
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