Superintendent: Plan for possible strike

O’Brien’s letter asks parents and guardians to prepare contingency plans for children.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien. (Photo courtesy of the Pegge Erkeneff/Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)                                 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien. (Photo courtesy of the Pegge Erkeneff/Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien. (Photo courtesy of the Pegge Erkeneff/Kenai Peninsula Borough School District) Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien. (Photo courtesy of the Pegge Erkeneff/Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)

School district Superintendent John O’Brien told parents and guardians in a Friday letter to prepare for a strike by educators and staff.

“Please know that I have directed the school district’s negotiation team to work tirelessly to engage the unions to find a fiscally responsible compromise to reach a tentative agreement,” O’Brien said in the letter. “However, in the unfortunate event that a few union leaders call for a strike, you as parents must be prepared and ready.”

O’Brien’s letter asks parents and guardians to prepare contingency plans for children.

“The strike will cripple the school district’s ability to continue its critical and core reason for existence — the education of our students,” O’Brien said. “As a result, I will have no option except to initiate a closure of all schools and all school activities.” The emergency closures also includes Boys and Girls Clubs activities in any district school or facility.

President of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association David Brighton said he was disheartened to read the letter when it was issued on Friday.

“It had a divisive tone, which I thought was unfortunate,” Brighton said.

The Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association announced Wednesday, Aug. 28 a potential strike date of Sept. 16. The associations slated the date as the earliest a strike may take place, but the announcement was not a notification that a strike will happen, Brighton said last week.

For over a year, contract negotiations between the school district and the associations have stalled on the rising cost of health care. On May 22, more than 75% of peninsula educators and staff voted to support a walkout.

The employee associations have to notify O’Brien 72 hours before they plan to strike, in which case the district will see an emergency school closure. All schools in the district will be closed, and all before- and after-school activities, sports, home-school, alternative schools, distance delivery programs, pools and any rentals or usage of school facilities will cease.

“The unions are trying to assert that it is “the district’s choice to cancel sports,” O’Brien said in the letter. “This is not true. If there is a strike, the members of those unions will no longer be providing the educational and supporting services that they agreed to provide in their respective negotiated agreements.”

In his letter to parents, O’Brien said his efforts are intently focused on reaching an agreement.

“The school district remains willing to meet as often and as long as necessary to find a fiscally responsible compromise to reach a tentative agreement and avoid an unnecessary strike,” the letter said.

Brighton said he was grateful for the outpouring of support educators received from the community in the wake of the letter’s release.

“We’re anxious to meet at the table,” Brighton said.

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