The Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education approved agreements with its employee associations at its meeting Monday, finishing the approximately 18-month long negotiation between the district and the Kenai Peninsula Education Association — representing district teachers — and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, which represents other school workers.
Of the sessions in which negotiating teams bargained on behalf of the two associations and the school board, only the last meeting on September 7 was open to the public. At that meeting the district negotiation team and the two associations reached agreement. On October 24, the two associations ratified the contract, and Monday’s school board approval finished the process, allowing a new employee health care plan to take effect January 1, 2017, and a new salary to take effect next school year.
The 9-member school board approved both agreements with opposing votes from board member Dan Castimore. Board member Tim Navarre was absent.
Before voting on the two agreements, new board member Mike Illg disclosed a possible conflict of interest: his wife is a part-time librarian for the district. Board president Joe Arness allowed Illg to vote, and said afterward that other board members also have spouses who work for the school district, and legal advisers had previously told the board this did not present a conflict of interest.
The new agreement — which will be in effect until the end of the 2017-2018 school year — provides teachers and staff with 1.5 percent salary increases in each of the next two school years and the same percentage increases for support staff wages. In the previous agreement, which became effective in July 2012, members of the educator’s association received 2 percent increases each school year.
The health care portion of the contract included new elements which, according to previous Clarion reporting, the district introduced to employees in its original offer to the associations made in Feb. 2015: a limit to the health care costs the district will pay per employee per month, and a second plan option with a higher deductible.
The associations’ negotiators accepted both the high deductible plan and the cap, compromising with a provision allowing employees to opt-out of the district’s health care plan immediately after the agreement is approved rather than when the plan becomes effective January 1 of the next year, as in previous contracts.
Castimore cited funding concerns in his objection.
“One of the things that concerns me about this contract greatly is the fact that it includes a salary increase up to 2018 when we are looking at declining budgets every single year for the next couple years,” Castimore said. “Typically you don’t raise employee salaries while at the same time looking to be cutting on services.”
At the end of Monday’s meeting, board members entered a closed executive session. In an interview afterwards, Castimore said the session had been the start of similar contract negotiations with the school district’s third employee association, the Kenai Peninsula School District Administrator’s Association.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org