Web posted Thursday, April 4, 2002

Unions reject district offer

by Shana Loshbaugh
Morris News Service-Alaska

Money still divides administrators and employees of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Talks on new contracts for teachers and educational support staff moved forward Friday and Saturday when negotiating teams knuckled down to the nitty gritty of payroll costs. But despite the cordial and productive atmosphere, the two sides remain far apart on salaries and frustrated by their financial constraints.

The district team of administrators and school board members put a new proposal on the table Friday morning.

"What we've tried to come up with is a fair and responsible proposal," said Joe Arness, school board member and spokesperson for the district's negotiating team. "It is not the intent of the district to begin negotiation off this platform. We want this to be the end of the negotiation."

The district, which originally proffered a salary freeze, offered to allow regular step increases next year, 1.5 and 2 percent increases the following two years and the elimination of the unpopular two-tier salary schedule. Arness asked the unions to take or leave the proposal as a whole.

Saturday, they left it.

Hans Bilben, vocational teacher at Skyview High School and the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association representing teachers, explained the decision.

"We rejected the district proposal because it went from a freeze to status quo, and because at this point we are only talking about a one-year contract."

The current employee contracts expire at the end of June. The unions' preliminary proposals asked for across-the-board raises of 9 percent, a one-year contract and increases in benefits such as health insurance payments and retirement bonuses. The proposals they passed out Saturday asked for 8 percent raises. The teachers' salary schedules in the district and KPEA packages differ by about $3,000 to $4,000 per teacher per year.

The teams have tentatively set their next negotiating session for Wednesday evening, with the next definite meeting at 9 a.m. April 13 at the Borough Building.

<> Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.