End of associations, school district negotiations in sight

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, August 15, 2016 7:50pm
  • News

Negotiations between the Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District may only have a few months left.

The teams will receive their decision from Oregon-based arbitrator Gary Axon by Sept. 1, which will be followed by a meeting to discuss the report, according to Pegge Erkeneff, school district liaison.

Addressing the Board of Education at the Aug. 8 regularly scheduled meeting, KPEA President David Brighton said he is hopeful once the arbitrator’s decision is received, a contract “that is going to work for everyone” can be reached.

“I think that will go a long way in making the employees of the district feel better,” Brighton said. “They have been without a contract for a full year now. I know it’s a tough time (with) state budgets and everything, but that’s really something I hope we can come to an agreement on early in the year.”

The current round of collective bargaining began in February 2015, for contracts set to begin July 1, 2015.

The two major sticking points continue to be the topics of health care and salaries. Since November 2015, most meetings have been dedicated to resolving the high costs of health care, specifically the details of implementing a high-deductible plan proposed by the school district.

Per employee, per month contribution caps could not be agreed upon for the new plan during meetings held this past spring, and the associations are hope for percentage increase to the salary schedule, while the school district wants stipends and no percentage increases.

The teams mutually agreed on a two-day advisory arbitration meeting June 1-2 and separately submitted post-hearing briefs also for Axon’s consideration in July.

While the process has been drawn out, Board Member Tim Navarre said that is just how it goes sometimes.

“Other than it going on longer than any of the parties wanted to, I think everybody did a great job,” Navarre said. “Unfortunately, everybody would like it sooner than later but some things don’t work out how you would hope.”

Board member Dan Castimore said he is confident the process won’t continue past the conclusion of the calendar year. However the next meeting goes, there is not much time left in the process, he said.

If the negotiating teams cannot find a middle ground, the school district can decide to impose a contract, Castimore said.

Both Navarre and Castimore said the public generally seemed out of the loop during the collective bargaining.

“The negotiation process doesn’t lend itself to tremendous amount of communication,” Castimore said. “Every offer has been published online, and people can see every response that is made, but it’s not like we are out there advertising publicly. It is really frowned upon for us to do that.”

If either side reaches out too much there is a chance they may be accused of unfair bargaining, he said.

Navarre said a few members of the public — he considers teachers members of the public even though they are directly affected by negotiations — came to make comments at board meetings but other than that, he heard very few concerns this time around.

“People just don’t really seem to care,” Castimore said. “I don’t know how you fix that part of it. We have been as transparent as we can really make it.”

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

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