Story last updated at 2:37 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2002

Teachers take lunch break to make point
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Many Homer High School teachers ate lunch in the staff lunch room the last few days.

That may not seem like news, unless you are one of the countless teachers and support staff who spend lunch breaks working with students, grading tests and getting ready for afternoon classes.

Last Monday through today, however, teachers will "work to the rule" during lunch, coming to the lunch room during the scheduled lunch time, locking their rooms and staying out of the hallways. Next week they plan to do the same.

Their actions are part of a larger movement by teachers around the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to work only the hours they are paid according to their contract. Though not a union-organized event, the action is aimed at showing support for the current contract negotiations between the district and teacher and education staff unions as well as shed light on the many extra hours teachers work without pay.

Homer High English and journalism teacher Eileen Clark said she typically works from 7:30 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m., and that's not counting spring vacation student trips and special projects that bite into much of her time off. She said working to the rule may help the public understand why teachers are seeking improvements to their contracts.

"The point is to help the public know how many hours teachers put into a day," Clark said. "It's not a typical nine-to-five."

Clark said teachers at Homer High, as well as elsewhere in the district, habitually put in extra hours because of their dedication to their jobs.

"We care about kids and we care about education," she said. "Education is not an eight-hour-a-day job, and caring for kids is not an eight-hour-a-day job."

In comparison to some other schools on the Peninsula, where teachers are limiting the hours they work, Homer High teachers' actions are minimal.

"Every school has adapted their own version of working to the rule," said Kenai Peninsula Education Association president Hans Bilben, adding that teachers have to balance the action with their heavy end-of-year workloads.

Bilben said there is a public perception that because teachers have summers off, as well as other breaks, they have an easy job. Reality is quite different, he said.

Teachers and education staff unions are not expecting a contract that pays educators for all the hours they spend working on their own time, he said. Rather, the unions are looking for appropriate compensation for the work educators do.

"It's the nature of the job that it's all-consuming," he said. "You find that most teachers are incredibly conscientious people, concerned about doing the best job they can, despite the fact that the contract day is 7.54 hours. At some point, the compensation has to match the

responsibilities."

So far, however, negotiations between the unions and the district are not going particularly well, Bilben said. Though the district has moved from its first offer, which included a wage freeze, to an offer which includes current step increases next year and a 1.5 to 2 percent salary increase the following years, as well as a larger contribution to health care, the latest offer was rejected last weekend by the unions. The unions have asked for a one-year contract with a 7 percent increase in salaries.

The district, however, said last weekend's proposal already stretches beyond the funds available.

"What we've put out on the table for year two and year three, we have to have more money to be able to fund those or we're right back into pink-slipping ... we're right back into cutting," said assistant superintendent Todd Syverson.

The negotiations continue April 29 and 30.

<> The Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story

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