The school board voted to approve contract agreements for district employees at their Monday meeting. The contract agreement was made by the district and two employee associations in the early morning of Sept. 17, hours before an employee strike was set to begin.
The Kenai Peninsula Education Association, the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association and the district had been negotiating for a contract for nearly 600 days, and bargaining snagged on the rising cost of health care.
While the district and the employee associations agreed on the contract, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education had the final say on approving the contract.
Both contracts, one for each association, passed with “yes” votes from every school board member present, except for board member Greg Madden, who voted “no” to supporting both of the associations’ contracts.
Board member Dan Castimore had an excused absence from the meeting. Board members Jason Tauriainen and Zen Kelly abstained from voting on the Kenai Peninsula Education Association contract, due to a conflict of interest. Both of their spouses are educators with the district.
Paul Marks, a teacher at Soldotna High School, said he was glad to move past contract negotiations and see the agreement formally approved.
“There were compromises made by both sides,” Marks said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to move forward and make it so when it comes up again in another year, we can move forward positively and work together to make certain that we’re able to retain the excellent staff that we have and be able to attract new wonderful people. And make it so our students have a wonderful place to go.”
The agreement for a three-year contract, reached at 1:37 a.m., Sept. 17, will be effective between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2021. This means negotiations for a contract effective after June 2021, will need to begin in about a year. Some board members said they hoped negotiators learn from their recent experience, to help the next collective bargaining session go smoothly.
“I hope that when we go into negotiations next time, which isn’t that far away, that we change our terminology a little and we move forward in a positive manner,” board member Debbie Cary said at Monday’s meeting.
“We have another one of these coming up pretty soon, sooner than we think, and it’s going to be imperative that both sides stay positive with each other and respect each other as humans, because there were times that did not happen,” Tauriainen said at Monday’s meeting. “We need to make sure that happens this time.”
Superintendent John O’Brien said he was eager to move forward from the contract negotiations.
“This has been a long process, close to 600 days, and very contentious at times,” O’Brien said at Monday’s meeting. “I will echo that as a district and as the leader of this district, we need to move forward. If this were not to pass, I can’t imagine the turmoil this would place the district in. I implore the board members who are able to vote, to pass this motion so we can move forward and focus on instruction and advocating for education in this next legislative session.”
The district is set to face funding challenges in the near future. At Monday’s meeting, O’Brien said the district is projected to lose 150 students, which may result in a $1.6 million loss in state and borough funding.
“We have a really big challenge in front of us,” Kelly said at the meeting. “We have a budget to deal with that we’ll be tackling pretty soon. We have a governor’s budget being released on Dec. 15, and I think we all need to be on the same team and rally support for education as a whole.”