The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Secretaries to see pay boost after reclassification

Twenty-three secretaries working at schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will be paid more during the upcoming school year. That’s following the successful reclassification of certain secretary positions by the district earlier this year.

Secretaries at schools throughout the district moved up on the district’s pay scale after successfully campaigning for higher wages that they say honor the ways they go above and beyond their duties.

The process of reclassifying KPBSD’s secretaries kicked off last year, when the secretaries at Paul Banks and West Homer elementary schools each submitted an individual reclassification request to the district. A separate group request from standalone secretaries at KPBSD’s small school sites also submitted a request.

Within KPBSD, there are three classifications, or types, of secretaries. How many secretaries any district school gets depends on how many students are enrolled at that school.

Secretary I classifications are usually staff members who help support a full-time secretary at a school, usually a large elementary school. Secretary II classifications are usually found at the district’s small schools and fill both head and assistant secretary roles. Secretary II classifications also support the high or middle schools under a supervising secretary. Class III secretaries, the highest ranking in the district, serve as the head secretaries of larger schools like Soldotna High School and Kenai Central High School.

Through the reclassification process, 23 KPBSD staff members moved up ranges on the district pay scale. Of those, 21 moved from Range 7 on the pay scale to Range 10. The secretaries at Paul Banks Elementary School and West Homer Elementary School were reclassified from Secretary II to Secretary III, so moved from Range 7 to Range 11 on the pay scale.

Article 9 of the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association outlines the reclassification process for district support staff.

Classification requests, which are made outside of the regular collective bargaining negotiation process, must be filed in writing by Dec. 15 of the preceding year and are considered by a reclassification committee once annually. The committee tasked with reviewing the request includes staff members and district administrators, with the final call made by the superintendent.

Nate Crabtree, KPBSD human resources director, said generally committee members are more likely to support a reclassification request if it’s clear an employee’s job duties have changed or evolved over time from those outlined in the employee’s job description. Votes against reclassification, he said, tend to occur when an employee’s duties have substantially stayed the same.

For the most recent reclassification requests, Crabtree said the committee included five support staff members and five members appointed by the district. That group unanimously recommended the reclassification of secretaries, and KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said in April that he also approved the request.

How much money reclassification will cost the district, Crabtree said, is not part of the committee’s debate. Rather, it is understood that whatever the committee recommends will be honored by the district.

What can be challenging about the reclassification request process, Crabtree said, is that it occurs outside of the district’s collective bargaining contract negotiations. He said reclassification requests sometimes allow certain employee groups to boost their compensation at a faster pace than other employee groups. Because of the financial cost associated with moving staff up on the employee schedule, Crabtree said such a discussion would usually happen during contract negotiations.

“While I’m happy for these folks to be honored in what they do, I think this belongs in a different place because it does come with an expense that has to be accounted for,” Crabtree said. “I think it belongs in regular negotiations because of that financial component.”

Susanna Litwiniak is president of the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association and also works as a secretary at Moose Pass School. She said reclassification has been on her radar for years — particularly at district schools that have a regional principal who is not in the building every day. At those schools, Litwiniak said it is often the school secretary that is picking up the extra work.

“They become the person who is counted upon to make sure that everything in the school is running smoothly,” Litwiniak said of school secretaries. “Usually, that is a principal, but a lot of times in these very small schools, a lot of it falls on the secretary.”

Litwiniak said that standalone Secretary IIs and Secretary IIIs largely do the same job, save for the fact that Secretary IIIs supervise other employees, but don’t get paid at the same rate.

“The standalone Secretary II was doing all of the duties of the Secretary III and sometimes together what another secretary would be doing too,” Litwiniak said. “The only difference was that they were not supervising other secretaries.”

Litwiniak said she, for example, is also Moose Pass’ de facto librarian, responsible for purchasing library books and checking materials in and out for students. Secretaries also often plan field trips and, in rural schools, coordinate travel arrangements for administrators in schools across the water.

Joni Wise is the former secretary at West Homer Elementary School, where she worked for six years and helped spearhead secretary reclassification efforts. She said Monday that she started to think about reclassifying school secretaries as she saw her peers take on more work and because the move would more fairly compensate those employees.

Wise recalls a colleague who absorbed the responsibilities of a school nurse without additional compensation and said she became responsible while at West Homer Elementary School for regularly leaving her desk to let people into the school building. That’s in addition to doing school payroll, which Wise said she was responsible, but not compensated for.

“Secretary IIIs (were) expected to do payroll,” she said. “It was in the job description. Secretary II, it did not say payroll. So we were like, we are doing the job of Secretary III, we should be compensated for that.”

Wise said that, while it is good secretaries will be paid more, she’d like to see the district back pay secretaries for the work they were doing while being compensated at lower rates. Litwiniak similarly said Monday that KPESA’s work isn’t done. The successful reclassification of school secretaries, she said, is a testament to the power of people working together toward a common cause.

“I feel like this group reclassification, for KPESA, was just a wonderful example of what can happen when people stand together in solidarity,” Litwiniak said. “The group itself met several times and discussed what it was that we wanted and deserved. I think everybody really got that feeling of solidarity, which is huge.”

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

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