Contract negotiations for teachers and support staff in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District reached an impasse Friday. The process will now go before a federal mediator.
The impasse came after a tense morning of negotiations at the Borough Building on Friday. Negotiating teams for the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association and the district spent much of the morning arguing about the interpretation of a district proposal on salary scales and health care benefits presented Thursday.
The district maintained that the proposal offered significant pay raises to employees. The associations, however, contended that yearly step increases based on experience with the district did not constitute a raise.
The employees look at the yearly steps as a reclassification, said KPEA spokesperson Dave Larson.
"That's not a raise," he said.
Rather, he said a raise, under the association's definition, constitutes an increase of pay that offsets cost of living increases.
The district, however, said any increase in pay -- for whatever reason -- is a raise.
"Some employees making more money next year is receiving a raise," said district spokesperson Joe Arness.
After a lengthy discussion, Larson suggested the teams declare an impasse, acknowledging that they could go no further in negotiations without outside help.
"We realize that the offer you made (Thursday) could be viewed as your last, best offer," Larson said. "We ultimately believe it is not the best offer you could make."
He then removed the associations most recent pay scale and health benefit offer, presented Sept. 13, from the table and suggested the teams declare an impasse.
KPESA spokesperson Buck George echoed Larson, removing the support staff association's most recent pay scale and health benefit offer from the table and also suggesting impasse.
"The district has not kept pace with the cost of living," George said. "The proposal did not meet the needs of employees, did not meet the cost of living, and it is an insult."
"I apologize if that's how you received the offer," replied Arness, "but I don't apologize for the offer."
The district agreed to the impasse and the spokespersons planned to make a conference call to the federal mediator assigned to the district. The teams will set up a mediation schedule as soon as possible.
The mediator will have up to 30 days to try to help the teams reach suitable contract agreements for teachers and support staff. The process will be closed to the public. If the mediation process fails, the case will go to arbitration. An arbitrator will compose suggested contracts for the two associations, and the contract will go before a vote of the associations' membership.
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