School district, associations conclude arbitration

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, June 6, 2016 9:08pm
  • News

Advisory arbitration concluded Thursday for the Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

It will likely be August before the mutually selected Oregon-based arbitrator Gary Axon will make a final decision, which is not legally binding, following the June 1-2 meetings. Both negotiating teams have until the end of July to submit post-hearing briefs, and Axon will have 30 days following that deadline to issue his report. The school district and the associations will split the responsibility for the arbitrator’s fee.

“The arbitration is really just us supporting our side and the school district supporting their side,” said David Brighton, KPEA president.

While the meetings were closed to the public, Brighton and KPESA President Patti Sirois were invited to attend and no one objected, Brighton said. Both also served as witnesses for what was formatted similarly to a judicial hearing, he said.

“The Arbitrator sat before all parties as if a judge, similar to a courtroom,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district liaison. “Outstanding issues were discussed one by one with exhibits and testimony. Exhibits were marked and entered, and witnesses were called and cross-examined.”

A tentative agreement was reached on a few minor items, but the topics of health care and salaries have yet to see a resolution, she said.

At different points in this round of negotiations that began in February of 2015, both teams supported the school district offering a high-deductible, high-premium plan in addition to the current traditional plan. An official agreement was not reached due to dispute over proposed caps on per employee, per month contributions. The associations are also hoping for percentage increases to the salary schedule, while the school district is proposing stipends, and no increase to the salary schedule.

Board of Education member Dan Castimore sat in on the bulk of the public meetings during this round of negotiations for contracts set to begin July 1, 2015. He said the two sides started too far apart this time around.

Castimore said the school district’s health care offer, which does not reduce any services but does mean no raises, is more than reasonable, especially with increasing medical costs and the state’s fiscal situation.

“We don’t want to take anyone’s medicine away,” he said. “I just think we have gotten a little too far to one side.”

Information on Axon’s decision will be released publicly on the school district’s collective bargaining webpage, and the negotiating teams will meet soon after to determine if the findings are favorable.

Castimore and Brighton both said they are not sure what it will take for the teams to reach a tentative agreement.

“I hope that we can find a solution through arbitration, but I don’t know,” Brighton said.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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