As a school year defined by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to close, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is working to hire more than 50 new staff members for schools across the borough.
KPBSD is in the process of hiring new principals at Nanwalek School, Port Graham School, Seward High School, Seward Middle School, Skyview Middle School and Susan B. English School. The district has also hired new principals at Kenai Central High School, Nikiski Middle High School, Nikiski North Star Elementary, Soldotna High School, Tebughna School, Razdolna School, Paul Banks Elementary and Homer Middle School for the 2021-2022 academic year. Among other outgoing KPBSD staff are Directors Tim Vlasak and Dr. Christine Ermold, and Superintendent John O’Brien, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Support Dave Jones and Nursing Supervisor Iris Wertz, who have spearheaded the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some staff will move to new positions in the district. Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent will become the new KPBSD assistant superintendent;Paul Banks Elementary Principal Eric Pederson will become the director of elementary education; and Soldotna High School Principal Tony Graham will become the director of secondary education.
Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Dave Brighton, who will be stepping down as president at the end of the school year, said Friday that while the number of teachers resigning or retiring seems a little higher than usual, the numbers are close to those of an average year.
New to the district next year will be a Title IX coordinator, which the district must hire in order to bring itself into compliance with federal regulations implemented under the administration of former president Donald Trump.
Staff recruitment efforts are happening concurrently with negotiations between the district, KPEA and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, which are in the process of crafting new employment contracts to take over when the current contracts expire at the end of next month.
Those contracts, approved in 2019, outline pay structures for district staff for three years and is set to expire on June 30. Negotiations over that contract almost resulted in a teacher strike and hit snags over employee health care costs. Among other things, the contract removed a spending cap on health care costs for district employees and migrated district employees to one of two high-deductible plans, according to previous Clarion reporting. Under the new plans, KPBSD pays 85% of employee health care costs, while the employee pays 15%, with no spending cap.
Employee salaries and health care continue to be KPBSD’s largest expenditure. Preliminary budget documents from May 3 show that the district expects to spend about 80% of its estimated budget of $134 million on employee salaries, including step increases and benefits.
Step increases for employee wages were also approved through the 2019 contract. Step increases are annual raises built into employee contracts that are independent of other negotiated wage or salary increases. Under the contract approved in 2019, teacher salaries conditionally also increased by .5% for the 2018-2019 academic year, 1% for the 2019-2020 academic year and 2% for the 2020-2021 academic year.
In a joint bargaining update posted last week, the KPBSD, KPEA and KPESA bargaining teams said that they continue to meet and are “confident” in the process. Their final negotiation meeting is scheduled for May 19, 2021, though they do not expect to ratify contracts until the fall.
Among resignations certified and supported by the Board of Education in 2020 and 2021, more than 100 staff members from more than 30 district schools announced they would be resigning either during or at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. Of the staff members retiring or resigning at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, 57 have worked at the district for 10 years or more.
As of Friday, KPBSD had 52 job openings, including 11 elementary school teaching positions, seven secondary education positions, seven special education positions and six substitute support positions. Applications for all positions can be found at applitrack.com/kpbsd/onlineapp.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.