Teachers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District soon will have the opportunity to decide whether they want to remain with the country's largest teachers' union or form an independent local association.
The decision comes as a result of a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association's policy assembly Saturday. The assembly, which includes one representative for every 25 KPEA members in a school, meets once a year to select resolutions to take before the National Educa-tion Association-Alaska convention and to conduct other association business, explained Skyview High School teacher and representative Dave Carey, who also is mayor of Soldotna.
"The main topic of conversation (Saturday) was whether or not to put out to the membership a vote to disassociate with NEA," Carey said.
The KPEA is a local association affiliated both with NEA-Alaska and the national organization. For the past several years, all teachers in the district have been required to be NEA members, paying dues of nearly $800 a year, or to pay an "agency fee" of about $740 a year.
Carey said some teachers are unhappy with the "closed shop" situation, which he said came about as a result of contract negotiations with the district about five years ago.
"Since the time ... it became a condition of employment, there have been a number of people who said we shouldn't be a closed shop," he said. "That has festered."
He also said one of the problems with associating with NEA is the percentage of dues that goes out of the state.
"Almost three-fourths of dues go to state or national. We keep less than one-fourth," Carey said. "Many people, and I'm certainly one, believe the dues should stay local."
He said employee dissatisfaction with contract negotiations about five years ago, followed by last year's contentious negotiation period, has led some members to desire better local funding and organization.
Carey said he believes disassociating with the national organization would allow a local union to fund a full-time president and secretarial staff, provide more support for local teachers and lobby for local issues more effectively, all while reducing dues.
"(This would) give the local (organization) a great deal more funds to support teachers in grievances, teachers in curriculum and certainly in organization. And the fourth item we spoke about was being more politically active. We could have a political action committee that could endorse candidates and give them money," Carey said.
"Right now, that's very difficult because so much money is going Outside. We have to be somewhat in line with national, and Alaska is somewhat more conservative than national back East. This would give us local control."
He added that because the Alaska population is so small, he believes the state's education issues are a low priority with the national organization, which has nearly 2 million members nationwide.
But, while Carey said he is a strong advocate of disassociating, he noted that there is another side to the discussion.
"There are certainly people who believe being part of the national NEA provides us with staff for grievances, lawsuits, those issues," he said. "People would say national protects us and gives us guidance publications and things we would not have access to ... . And, they make the case that having the NEA name helps."
Though the policy assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of putting the disassociation decision before the membership, Carey said that does not mean the assembly is advocating a separation.
"There are absolutely people who want to stay in NEA that supported letting the membership vote," Carey said.
He said during the discussion, Cathy Carrow, the president of KPEA, said legal time lines would prevent a vote until early next year. Carrow was not available for comment Sunday afternoon.
In order to have a membership vote, the association will need to conduct a meeting with building representatives, then allow those representatives time to share the information with members at a building level.
Membership also needs an extended voting period, then the votes will have to be counted and certified.
The vote likely won't be complete until at least February, Carey said.
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