Nathan Erfurth speaks before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Nathan Erfurth speaks before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School board approves employee contracts, pay raises for school nurses

88% of KPEA’s voting members approved their contract and 99% of KPESA’s voting members approved their contract.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education during their Monday night meeting at Homer High School ratified contracts with teaching and support staff unions and voted to pay school nurses $5 more per hour for at least three years.

Tentative agreements with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association (KPEA), the union that represents the school district’s teachers and certified staff, and the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association (KPESA), the union that represents the school district’s support staff, were reached earlier this year pending approval by union members and the Board of Education.

KPEA President Nathan Erfurth said Tuesday that 88% of KPEA’s voting members approved their contract and 99% of KPESA’s voting members approved their contract.

Under the agreement, health care for district teachers and for support staff would change monthly premiums from a composite rate to a four-tiered rate. The four tiers are: employee only, employee plus spouse, employee plus children and employee plus family. The employee’s monthly nine-month costs are estimated to range from $231.03 to $739.30 depending on their plan. Monthly premiums refer to the amount of money someone pays for insurance each month. The new health care plan will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2023, with enrollment open from Nov. 15, 2022 through Dec. 15, 2022.

Both teaching and support staff will also receive an additional day of personal leave and be allowed to accumulate up to 10 personal days instead of eight. The new agreements will increase sick leave for bereavement following the death of a spouse, fiance or child and clarify bereavement eligibility.

KPBSD will also recognize more experience for initial placement on the salary schedule when hiring new employees. For example, KPBSD would recognize all experience with KPBSD — even if a teacher left the district and is looking to return. KPBSD would also recognize 12 years of in-state school experience, eight years of out-of-state experience if the applicant holds a master’s degree and six years of out-of-state experience if the applicant holds a bachelor’s degree.

Ingrid Harrald, who is a counselor in the school district, thanked the board for passing the agreements and for approving pay raises for nurses, where she said strain is being felt in the district’s small schools and administrative staff are picking up some of the COVID mitigation workload.

“I am just gonna say thank you so much for the pay raise for nurses and also for the agreements that are going to make a livable wage for our admin assistants,” Harrald said. “We are in a pandemic, whether you want masks or not, or vaccines or not, there is a pandemic going (on) and we cannot deny that. What I would like you to know that in small schools, we don’t have a nurse that’s in the school with us.”

Also approved by the board on Monday was a memorandum of agreement that will see the district nurses be paid $5 more per hour through at least the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years. According to the district, the pay increase will be paid for using some of the district’s federal COVID relief funds.

“The District continues to experience nursing vacancies due to public health offices and local medical practices offering significantly more per hour than our current salary schedule for licensed nurses,” background information about the policy says. “Due to the current COVID-19 global pandemic, for the health and safety of our students, it is important to ensure all KPBSD nursing positions are filled.”

KPBSD Nurse Melisa Miller said during a board work session on Monday that KPBSD currently employs 21 school nurses for its 42 schools, and is actively trying to recruit more nurses. KPBSD’s job portal showed that, as of Tuesday, the district was looking to hire 12 new nurses.

More information about KPEA and KPESA’s tentative bargaining agreements can be found on the unions’ shared website at kpea-kpesa.org.

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

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