Teachers and students returned to public school Tuesday on the Kenai Peninsula after educators called off a strike early in the morning. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and two educator unions reached a tentative contract agreement at 1:37 a.m.
David Brighton is president of the Kenai Peninsula teacher’s union. He said the school district and the unions have been at an impasse over healthcare costs for over a year and a half.
“I think it was a very good compromise,” he said. “This addresses the rising cost of health care that had employees so nervous and I think that this moves us forward in the right direction.”
Under a previous contract, educators and the district were splitting the cost of healthcare premiums after it reached a designated cap. That cap was reached years ago.
In the tentative contract agreed to last night, that cap was eliminated. But there would only be one plan available. Pegge Erkeneff is the spokeswoman for the school district. She agrees it’s a good compromise. But she said the district will have to make future budget cuts to pay for the contract:
“When we project out forward, there's going to be some reductions,” she said. “This was a hard decision to make, but it was made on behalf of meeting the needs of our staff that we value and we're moving forward together.”
Educators didn’t receive details about the agreement until Tuesday afternoon. But at Homer High School that morning, teachers like Walter Love, said hearing that there was a tentative agreement came as a relief. The Homer High strike coordinator hoped it would bring down the costs of healthcare.
“We have some people in our district that are not well and as they have reached their limits, it has gotten to the point where it was unsustainable,” he said.
Teachers and staff will vote on whether to ratify the agreement next week. Then it will go back to the school board for final approval.