Voting is underway by members of the local teachers union to determine who will next take the helm of the association.
Members of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, the union that represents the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s certified staff, are choosing between two candidates for union president, LaDawn Druce and Amy Dawn.
The election follows the firing of former president Nathan Erfurth, who was arrested in May on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. KPEA’s nine-member executive board voted unanimously on May 22 to remove Erfurth as president and appoint Tamra Wear, who had been serving as vice president, to the position. Wear will serve as acting president until the new president is chosen.
Wear on May 23 told the Clarion that nominations for an interim president would be accepted from May 24-30 and that a special election would run from June 1 to June 15. Only union members are able to vote for a new interim president, who will serve a one-year term.
LaDawn Druce is a retired KPBSD teacher who now works as a school counselor for River City Academy, Nanwalek School, Cooper Landing School and Hope School. She’s been active in education on the Kenai Peninsula for decades and, along with her husband, Michael, is a former English Language Arts teacher at Soldotna High School.
Druce said Friday that she was asked to run for the position by peers and was the first person to serve as the full-time president of KPEA. Previously, that position had been part time and allowed the union president to still teach. The move required a bump in union dues, Druce said, to accommodate the president’s full-time paycheck.
She has also served as KPEA’s rights chair, a position through which she helped KPBSD educators navigate the district’s grievance process.
In light of the circumstances surrounding Erfurth’s departure from the union, Druce said she thinks it would be beneficial to her that she wasn’t in the room when the union’s executive board made certain decisions. The removal of a sitting KPEA president, she said, is “uncharted territory” for her, and it will be a priority for her to get the association back on track. The association, she said, is not represented by any one person.
“Really what has to happen now is just bringing people together,” she said.
Heading into contract negotiations, Druce said she’d have to do some homework on what changes, if any, members want to make, but said it’s important to her that contracts contain language that respects staff. A key issue for her is recruitment and retention of quality staff, which she sees as an issue the associations and the district can come together to address.
“Once you’ve worked with the association for as long as I did … it’s just too hard to not at least try to help,” Druce said of her candidacy.
Also vying to become KPEA’s next president is Amy Dawn.
Dawn is a KPBSD graduate and staff member who has worked at KPBSD for 12 years. She has three children currently in KPBSD schools and has most recently worked with the district’s iChoice remote learning program, which was made available to families post-COVID. Dawn also serves as KPEA’s rights chair.
Dawn said she became involved with the union after realizing the gaps that exist in teachers’ contracts, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeing how stress exacerbated existing problems. In opting to run for the union’s head job, Dawn said she’s been keeping a list of concerns brought to her by KPEA members that she wants to see addressed.
“It’s become really apparent that the post-COVID education world is different than prior to,” she said.
Regarding the circumstances of Erfurth’s departure from the district, Dawn, who sits on the executive board that voted unanimously to remove Erfurth as president, said that safety is of the utmost priority, as is ensuring that student and staff rights are respected. Dawn referred further questions about Erfurth to Wear or to the National Education Association’s Alaska chapter.
Looking ahead, Dawn said it’s important to remember the shared goals of the union, KPBSD and the community in creating the best space for students to work in. She wants to see more joint community outreach efforts and said she has a deeply personal interest in making the community a better place for her family and for other KPBSD families.
“We will make a better community if we can work together,” she said.
Voting in KPEA’s special election is underway through Thursday at noon. KPEA has advised voting members to check their emails to cast ballots.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.