Arbitrator urges school district, associations to reach agreement

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, August 25, 2016 9:47pm
  • News

In his released report, a collective bargaining Advisory Arbitrator urges the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Kenai Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations to wrap up negotiations as soon as possible.

“It is time for the Associations and District to close this contract without further delay,” wrote jointly selected, Oregon-based arbitrator Gary Axon. “By the time a contract is finally entered into over one year will have elapsed of the three-year agreement (contracts were set to begin July 1, 2015) recommended by the Interest Arbitrator to the parties. Prolonged negotiations will not be in the best interest of either the Associations, District, or patrons of the District.”

Axon’s findings from the June 1-2 meetings are included a 29-page document, published on the school district’s website, where he suggests concessions to all three parties in the unresolved topics of health care, salaries and benefits and eight other minor areas.

“…The Arbitrator is recommending nothing radical or drastic for inclusion in the successor agreements,” he wrote in the report.

On the topic of health care Axon wrote he believes neither the school district’s nor the associations’ positions should be adopted in their entirety. The school district’s proposal “goes too far, too fast, to shift the additional cost of health care onto the employees,” and the associations’ does “zero to alleviate the rising costs of the health care program to the District,” he wrote.

Axon suggests the teams meet in the middle and adopt a three-year plan, which includes the addition of a high-deductible plan along with maintaining the current Traditional plan.

The school district preferred a four-year plan, which “is not acceptable in a period of economic flux,” and the associations’ a two-year plan that “makes little sense when the parties are into the second year of the contract,” he wrote. The new agreement should take effect Jan. 1, 2017, as no savings would be realized this year, he wrote.

A major sticking point during negotiations was the per-employee, per-month cap.

Axon suggests the teams agree the school district contribute 85 percent on the traditional health care plan and 90 percent on the high-deductible plan, once both the out of pocket and deductible payments are satisfied. He also suggests the school district and employees equally split the costs if the employee’s medical bills exceed $1,731.45 per month on the traditional plan, and $1,645.61 on the high-deductible plan in 2018.

Axon wrote that his recommendations on salaries and benefits are strongly influenced by Gov. Bill Walker’s nearly $1 million last minute vetoes to the Base Student Allocation and pupil transportation funding. Again, he recommends entering a three-year agreement.

The associations proposed percentage salary increases for their members, while the school district proposed stipends off the salary schedule.

The associations reported their concerns with the lack of percentage increases, which could lower the school district’s ability to retain and attract employees.

Axon sided with the school district for the current fiscal year, but proposed percentage increases built into the salary scheduled for the next two fiscal years. He wrote all tentative agreements should be implemented retroactively for eligible employees.

“The task for the parties and this arbitrator is to maintain a salary schedule that does not fall substantially behind the comparators, but keep the District’s salary schedule in a competitive position,” he wrote.

The school district and associations are not legally bound to any of Axon’s recommendations.

Before anything is final, all three bargaining teams must mutually reach a tentative agreement, and then that agreement must be ratified by the Board of Education, said Pegge Erkeneff, school district liaison.

School district administration and Board of Education members are currently reviewing the arbitrator’s decisions, Erkeneff said. The board will discuss the findings during an executive session scheduled during a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough administrative building, she said.

KPEA President David Brighton said the two associations’ negotiating teams met Thursday afternoon, and determined they are ready to meet with the school district’s team again.

“We have two possible dates in the next couple weeks that we are requesting the district’s team to meet with us,” he said.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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