School District, Employees Agree on Contract

     The Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board has approved three-year contracts for the teachers and employees in the district. School officials gathered for a special session Tuesday morning. The agreements are retroactive to last year.

     The agreements allow for a two percent bump in salary each year, and by the third year of the contract the district will cover 85 percent of health care costs. Members of the teachers’ and employees’ unions had until Sunday to weigh in on the potential agreement. Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce said there was overwhelming support from the teachers.

     “Of the 300 people who voted, 293 voted in favor of ratifying the contract,” she said.

     Druce said there are just a little more than 600 members in the KPEA. She said support for the contract was likely because union officials had numerous site visits with education members. Druce also mentioned it could be considered a pat-on-the-back for the bargaining team.

     “I think it was a kind of an endorsement for the team and their endorsement of the team and their endurance throughout the process. They were kind of giving them the okay to say yes, we know this is as good as we were going to get and we appreciate your hard work,” she said.

     Support Association President Margie Warner echoed Druce’s comments.

     “We had about almost 40 percent vote in our election in overwhelming support for the contract. It was a long-fought battle. I think we can all come away from this with a learning experience,” she said.

     The long-fought battle she’s referring to is the 14 months of negotiations, which included the intervention of an arbitrator in December after talks stalled. Last month, when all sides reached the agreement, Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater had said he wanted to work with both unions to find a way to smooth out the negotiating process.

     “Just reflecting back now that the process is over… are there things that we can do differently? Is there a way to streamline things? Certainly dragging it out to 14 months was certainly frustrating for both sides,” he said.

     The next round of talks will begin in only two years. For now, the district’s payroll department will be poring over salaries and compensating teachers and employees for the retroactive payments. Druce said she has been communicating with members about that process.

     “We have basically told our members not to expect anything until the May paycheck. If it’s able to come in April, that would be a bonus,” she said.

     Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones has said the district does not have the numbers figured out for last year yet, but when they get the final figures they will determine if a revision would be necessary. He also said during last week’s regular school board meeting, officials increased the budget for next year by a little more than $542,000 dollars in light of the agreement.

     Rashah McChesney of the Peninsula Clarion assisted with this story.