School district, unions exchange initial contract offers

A little more than a year after they concluded collective bargaining, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and its teacher and staff unions are back in negotiations.

The groups kicked off their collective bargaining process on Feb. 15 and exchanged initial offers. The school district administration has proposed a one-year contract for teachers, lasting through 2019, with slight increases to the salary schedule.

The Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents teachers, has asked for a three-year contract with a .5 percent pay increase the first year, a 1 percent increase the following year and a 2 percent increase in the third year. The Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, which represents the district’s support staff, asked for the same annual raise rates in its contract. The teacher’s union has also asked for an additional $3,000 annually for employees certified through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Health insurance costs were a major sticking point in the last negotiation cycle, with the school district asking to shift more of the cost to employees and the unions contesting that. The disagreements over health care and wages dragged out negotiations for more than a year and a half, finally concluding in November 2016.

The Kenai Peninsula Education Association has asked in its initial offer for the school district to remove the cap from the district’s contribution to health insurance premiums. The Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association has asked for the same in its initial offer.

The school district’s initial offer inserts a section to the contract saying that the health insurance broker will estimate the final costs for the district’s two health care plans — a traditional plan and a high-deductible health plan — and that estimate will determine the payroll deductions for each plan. It clarifies that the school district’s Health Care Program Committee, which includes members of the union, an administrator and three other employees, will determine the final rate but it cannot be more than the broker’s estimate and the plans have to remain separated.

Health care costs have been one of the highest pressure points for the school district. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education convened a separate committee on health care to help address costs, and during a joint meeting with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Feb. 6, district Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones explained that the administration recently decided to implement a health program that will send employees out of state for some surgeries and medical treatments in an effort to save money.

The next collective bargaining session is scheduled for March 1 at 10 a.m. Public comment is currently open on the school district’s website and can be submitted in paper by mail or in person at the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building in Soldotna.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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