Signs hang on the entryway wall at the Kenai Peninsula Education Association office in Soldotna, Alaska, in this Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, file photo. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Signs hang on the entryway wall at the Kenai Peninsula Education Association office in Soldotna, Alaska, in this Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, file photo. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School board ratifies new contracts following union membership support

The a one-year contract extension is the first in the district’s history

Teachers and support staff working for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will receive a raise and more money to put toward their health care costs under a one-year contract extension — the first in the district’s history — ratified by the board of education on Monday.

Under the terms of the agreement, the district’s certified employees, represented by the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, will receive a 3.5% raise effective for the 2024-2025 school year. The district’s support staff, represented by the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association, will receive a 6% raise for the upcoming school year.

Both raises are the largest year-over-year percentage increase for both groups since at least fiscal year 2011.

The agreement also includes a $200 increase in the amount of money the district gives employees to pay for health care costs, such as toward their deductible or a doctor visit. That amount, previously $800, is now $1,000 for both types of employees.

The same agreement also updates the contract language for both KPEA and KPESA employees.

Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, KPBSD’s certified staff will be compensated at their per diem rate for any work done for the district outside of their regularly contracted days. That’s as opposed to a $150 flat rate that teachers are currently paid in some situations. In all cases, employees affected by the language change will now be compensated at a higher rate than the $150 per diem amount.

The agreement also makes permanent a $5 per hour raise for school nurses that was first approved in 2020 as KPBSD sought to fill nursing vacancies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Building that raise into the salary schedule means that the amount will not need to be repeatedly renewed.

The agreement approved Monday was reached by bargaining teams for both unions and the district less than one month after the collective bargaining process kicked off. KPEA and KPESA members last week voted on the then-tentative agreement, which needed a simple majority in favor before it could advance to the school board for ratification.

KPEA President LaDawn Druce, KPESA President Susanna Litwiniak and KPBSD Human Resources Director Nate Crabtree told the Clarion last week that uncertainty surrounding state funding for K-12 education is a key reason union leadership and the district hashed out an agreement for a one-year extension of employees’ existing contract, rather than creating an entirely new three-year contract.

As state lawmakers debate the future of K-12 funding in Juneau, KPBSD is forecasting a $13 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. The district has joined other advocates for public education around the state in calling on the Alaska Legislature to increase and inflation-proof the amount of money school districts receive per student, also called the base student allocation. Other than a $30 increase approved by lawmakers as part of the Alaska Reads Act, that amount has not changed since fiscal year 2017.

Druce told school board members Monday that, of the 60% of KPEA members who voted, 74% supported the agreement. That number is reflective of membership support for the collaborative bargaining approach the unions took this year as much as it is about the nuts and bolts of the agreement.

“They said yes to a one-year contract, they said yes to a three and a half percent salary increase, yes to $200 to their HRA/HSA account, and yes to some stronger language to address educators earning their per diem pay for working outside of their contract,” Druce said. “But equally as important, they have said yes to a more collaborative approach (and) working together.”

Litwiniak made similar comments, calling the agreements “a wonderful example … of what can happen when we work together.”

Druce emphasized during Monday’s school board meeting that the focus of the two bargaining teams was to retain existing district employees and to get the agreement out around the same time that contracts would be issued. The board also approved certified and support staff contracts during their Monday meeting.

Both agreements received the full support of voting school board members. Board President Zen Kelly and members Virginia Morgan and Jason Tauriainen abstained from voting on the KPEA agreement because their spouses are employed by KPBSD. Multiple board members praised the work of Crabtree and the bargaining teams.

“This is the way that negotiations and working together should go,” Kelly said. “Having been a part of, also, some previous trials and tribulations in the past through negotiations, it’s a big relief. Even though this is just for one year, I think that’s exactly what we needed to do at this juncture as we work to get the (base student allocation) set to be a better amount that will help us all.”

Recordings of Monday’s school board meetings will be available to stream on KPBSD’s BoardDocs webpage.

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

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