Kenai Peninsula Board of Education approves employee contracts

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education approved agreements with its employee associations at its Monday meeting, 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.

The school district negotiation team and the two associations reached agreement on Sept. 7, following arbitration. The two associations’ members voted to ratify the contract, finalizing the vote on Oct. 24, and the school board approval finished the process at its Monday meeting, allowing a new employee health care plan to take effect Jan. 1, 2017 and a new salary to take effect next school year.

The nine-member school board approved both agreements with opposing votes from board member Dan Castimore. Board member Tim Navarre was absent.

The new agreement — which will be in effect until the end of the 2017-2018 school year — provides the 1,175 teachers and staff represented by the associations with 1.5 percent salary increases for the remainder of the present school year and the next, and the same percentage increases for support staff wages. In addition, members of each association were given one-time $750 stipends.

The changes will increase the lowest salary for a first-year teacher from $46,435 in the present school year to $48,045 in the 2017-2018 school year. In the same period, the highest possible salary — for a teacher with over 20 years’ experience and a master’s degree — will rise from $88,596 to $91,274. By the 2017-2018 school year, support staff will earn wages between $14.39 and $41.90. In the previous agreement, which became effective in July 2012, members of the educator’s association received 2 percent increases each school year.

Board member Dan 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.”

New elements in the health care portion of the contract include a limit to the health care costs the district will pay per employee per month, a second plan option with a higher deductible and higher premiums, and the opotion for employees to opt out immediately after the agreement is approved rather than after the plan becomes effective in the new year, as in previous contracts.

Castimore objected also to the health care portion of the agreement, not because of the compromise but because of a feature persisting from previous agreements: a Health Care Program Committee that according to the agreement “will determine and control the health care program for all District employees covered by the program during the term of this agreement.” While the agreement determines how the district will fund employee health care, the Health Care Program Committee determines what that care can consist of. The group has nine voting members, consisting of representatives chosen by the employee associations and by the district superintendent.

Castimore said the committee’s ability to chose what the care covers “is essentially taking away all the decisions related to health care, and yet we have to pay for it… There have been times in the past when decisions have been made to increase care and we don’t have any input on that, and yet it impacts our budget.”

Speaking to the board, Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association President Patti Sirois — a Health Care Program Committee member — offered a counter-example to claims that the committee is increasing costs.

“At our last health committee meeting, we did take action to save the plan money — low end $2.5 million, high end $5 million — and we are always looking at doing that,” Sirois said. “…It’s in our best interest, as well as the district’s best interest to do so, and we want to save money, not just shift the costs.” In a later interview, Sirois said the decision she’d referred to was a deal with Aetna Insurance through which employees can get discounted care from providers in the Aetna network.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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