Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth speaks from the bed of his truck in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth speaks from the bed of his truck in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Overworked and underpaid’

Rally calls for support for KPBSD staff, teachers

A group of about 50 people clad in crimson stood outside the George A. Navarre Admin Building in Soldotna on Thursday to voice their support for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s teachers and support staff.

“If you truly respect us as teachers, as educators, as support staff (and) as custodians, treat us in such a way,” said teacher Rebecca Dixon.

“Our staff members — everyone from your child’s teacher, your school counselors, your custodians, your aides — are overworked and underpaid,” said Olivia Davis, a former KPBSD student.

Attendees held signs that advocated for better pay for the district’s teachers and support staff while speakers criticized raises recently approved for staff in the district office.

Nathan Erfurth is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, the union that represents the district’s certified staff. He said Thursday’s demonstration was organized in response to those salary increases, which the KPBSD Board of Education approved this year.

“We’ve just endured an incredibly difficult year and there has been little to no additional compensation for educators,” Erfurth said.

The board of education last month approved a 10% raise for Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent and in April approved 11.38% raises for the district’s eight director positions. Those salaries will increase by 1% in fiscal year 2023 and by 2% in fiscal year 2024.

Under the changes approved by the board of education in April, salaries for directors now start at about $127,000, up from $114,000 in the previous fiscal year. The salary for the assistant superintendent now starts at $138,500, up from $125,000 in the previous fiscal year.

The district negotiates bargaining agreements with four different groups of employees: certified staff such as teachers, support staff, principals and people who work in the district office. Negotiations between the district and the unions that represent certified and support staff typically happen first and are done with both groups at the same time at the request of the associations. Then comes negotiations with principals and, after that, district office staff.

Included in the agreement reached last summer with KPEA and the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association, which represents the district’s support staff, was a one-time payment of $1,500 for district employees, as well as $5 per hour raises for district nurses.

Erfurth said Thursday, however, that the district has not provided the same kind of special compensation during the pandemic as other districts and has previously pointed out that the $1,500 payment was in lieu of a salary increase.

“I’m not trying to renegotiate the whole salary schedule,” Erfurth said. “I want to honor our agreements, but I also want to recognize our reality.”

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland on Friday described the salary increases for directors as a fix that has needed to happen. For employees like principals who want to work in the district office, director positions come with more work and less pay.

“You’re adding 50 days to their contract, but they’re actually making less money overall than they would as a principal,” Holland said.

The lower pay means there’s little incentive for people who already work for and are familiar with KPBSD and the peninsula to move up within the district, he said. The raises were not meant to be disrespectful to teachers, as some demonstrating Thursday said.

“I understand this makes for easy (politicizing),” Holland said of the salary bumps. “I get that, because it’s there, but it needed to be fixed and that’s what I did.”

Mark Fraad is the vice president of KPEA and has worked for the district for 24 years. He’s currently a P.E. teacher at Seward Elementary School and described the raises as “demoralizing.” Fraad said he would have liked the money to be used for signing or retention bonuses for teachers and support staff who are grappling with high inflation, or more directly toward students.

“I don’t think anyone saw inflation going to where it is, but people are hurting and people don’t want to teach anymore,” Fraad said.

Holland said Friday that the district administration was looking at ways to adjust the support staff salary schedule prior to the school board’s May 2 meeting in Seward, where multiple people decried the salary increases. The district is mulling “several options” that he hopes to bring before the school board at its June 6 meeting, Holland said Friday.

“We realize the amount of work that people had to do,” Holland said.

Holland said the district has also put out a request for proposals that will allow the district to explore other health care plans that would lower costs for district employees.

The KPBSD Board of Education’s June 6 meeting will be streamed live via Zoom and available to view on the district’s media page at media.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Rebecca Dixon speaks in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Rebecca Dixon speaks in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Rebecca Dixon speaks in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Rebecca Dixon speaks in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Kenai Peninsula Borough School District student Olivia Davis speaks in support of district teachers and staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Former Kenai Peninsula Borough School District student Olivia Davis speaks in support of district teachers and staff during a rally outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Demonstrators rally in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and staff outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Demonstrators rally in support of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and staff outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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