Story last updated at 1:31 p.m. Thursday, June 6, 2002

School district negotiations stall over pay
by Peninsula Clarion staff and Carey James, Homer News
Union negotiators and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District ran into the brick wall of salaries and benefits last week, bringing contract negotiations to a halt until August.

Negotiating teams were unable to agree even on a date for the next meeting, let alone how to proceed with talks on the contentious financial issues. Dates in June and July were turned down by the unions, district Superintendent Donna Peterson said, pushing the next session into August or September.

Thursday's contract negotiations moved along at a steady clip, and the district and union negotiators came to agreement on most of the remaining nonmonitary issues, such as grading and preparation time for teachers between quarters, restriction of administrator-extended workdays, and job descriptions.

The Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association worked through issues such as personnel files, job descriptions and employee rights.

But Friday's negotiations did not go as well. Most of the day was spent reviewing the positions of the unions and district on salaries and benefit packages.

While the district has offered 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 unions have asked for a one-year contract with a 7 percent increase in salaries.

"The KPESA believes the money is out there," said Buck George, a district custodian and spokesperson for the KPESA negotiating team. "You don't have to balance everything on the backs of employees."

Joe Arness, district negotiator and board member said the perception can be there all it wants, but the money is not there.

George said the district had come up with other viable budget-balancing options that should be explored more <> specifically closing schools and cutting back extracurricular activities, to which KPESA president Karen Maharini added that the union does not have an official position on either option.

KPEA president Hans Bilben said Tuesday that no teacher in the district wants the district to close schools, increase the size of classes or eliminate after-school activities, but the district must determine how to properly compensate its employees.

"It's not our job to go out and find the money. Those are things the district needs to do," he said.

Around noon Friday, Arness asked if the KPESA felt the discussions had reached an impasse. George said he didn't understand how the district could simultaneously support collaboration and an impasse.

"The associations requested a mediator several months ago," Arness replied. "We thought we were acquiescing to your previous request."

The KPESA rejected the idea, and asked the district for a new contract proposal.

"We know you have in mind a certain number of dollars you're willing to place toward salaries and benefits," KPEA spokesman Dave Larson told the district team. "We would like you to make a proposal to us in regards to those numbers instead of just discussing this."

Arness countered that request, asking, "If I were to say, 'Give us your rock-bottom proposal,' would you? I don't think so."

Larson said, however, that the district is the side with the information on what the budget can afford for salaries and benefits.

By day's end, the teams had not exchanged a single compensation package proposal, and KPEA asked the teams to start planning the next negotiating sessions and to set up a tentative date for mediation.

Peterson said Wednesday, however, that the district is simply researching which mediation company to use, and has not scheduled one yet.

If an agreement is not met by June 30, when the teachers' and support staff's contracts expire, the current contract will roll forward, including step increases, as long as negotiations continue, Peterson said.