Associations make school district new offer

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, October 17, 2015 9:39pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is considering proposals from the teacher and support staff associations before it decides if entering arbitration is still necessary.

The new offers addressed unresolved sections in health care coverage and salaries that have kept negotiators from reaching a tentative agreement for support staff and teachers contracts, which were set to begin July 1. Prior to Wednesday’s meeting where the new proposals were handed over, teachers rallied at four locations in the Central Kenai Peninsula area supporting the associations’ requests for “fair contracts.”

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Matt Fischer referred to the proposals as the “bare bones” of what the associations originally hoped for when negotiations began in February. He said “wiping the table clean,” is necessary for the school district to realize any savings that may come from revising health care options.

“I truly, honestly believe we gave you a proposal there that’s within what’s been budgeted for this year,” said Fischer to Saul Friedman, who represents the district negotiating team.

The three associations and the school district are concerned about the sustainbility of each other’s proposals.

The associations have been opposed to the school district’s proposal for an additional, high-deductible plan introduced and the option for staff to opt out of receiving their coverage through the school district.

Fischer said the new plan may yield some immediate costs savings, but in the long run, it brings the school district closer to being liable for the “Cadillac tax” on health care plans, which will be imposed beginning in 2018. He said he also wanted to know if too many employees would decide to seek coverage elsewhere, and what repercussions that may have on the school district.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers will be taxed an additional 40 percent for expensive single and other than single coverage.

Friedman, an Anchorage-based attorney who headed the school district’s negotiations, said the new plan would lessen the burden for employees who are paying $3,000 in premiums annually, without much use of medical facilities. He said he was also concerned about the associations’ proposals that would make the school district liable for 80 percent of the cost of an employee’s health care before they’ve reached the out-of-pocket maximum and 100 percent after, which could be a significant hit to the Health Reserve Account in the school district’s budget is if rates continue to go up.

Friedman thanked the associations for a thorough explanation of their opposition to the high-deductible plan.

The teachers association also proposed a 2 percent salary raise for each educator, in addition to built-in increases on the pay scale, and 1 percent raises for support staff. Each association is also offering the school district the chance to exchange one or half-a-percentage raise for more personal days.

“It may be more palatable to do a per-day trade than salary increases,” Fischer said. “We wanted to give options to find what’s the best way to get to the end goal.”

For the first half of Wednesday’s meeting, Friedman fielded questions from Fischer about areas of confusion the associations found in the school district’s proposal. Friedman maintained the school district had agreed to the meeting based on the assumption that the associations had new proposals to bring to the table, not for further discussion. Fischer continued to ask questions.

The conversation remained somewhat contentious until a 15-minute caucus break. As the school district’s team reviewed the various new offers, Fischer also said the education association was looking to find compensation for employees that work large amounts of overtime, such as fee waivers to sports games.

Now, it is back to waiting.

School district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said the school district has asked a consultant to join the school district’s Health Care Committee to review the new proposals.

“The district did not know what to expect from KPEA and KPESA, and was only told that the associations wanted another meeting to provide the district with new proposals,” Erkeneff said. “The district is reviewing, analyzing, and costing out the new proposals to determine if they contain workable compromises.”

Advisory arbitration has only occurred once in the past decade, Erkeneff said. The three negotiating teams declared an impasse in April and entered mediation in September.

“KPBSD, KPEA and KPESA are in the initial stage of the advisory arbitration process which is the selection of an arbitrator through the American Arbitration Association,” Erkeneff said. “Once an arbitrator is selected, the arbitrator advises the parties of his or her available dates for a multi-day arbitration, and the scheduling process begins.”

Fischer said he hopes the school district returns with “a counteroffer we can look at.”

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

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