Story last updated at 1:56 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2002

KPEA member takes district job
by Carey James
Staff Writer

A top negotiator and former president for the Kenai Peninsula teachers union has been hired as the school district's new human resources director, causing some to question whether information from the teacher's side of the table will land in district ears.

Several union negotiators, as well as district officials, say, however, that they are comfortable the move will not hamper the integrity of the contract negotiations.

Tim Peterson, an eighth-grade history teacher at Kenai Middle School, was promoted to the position earlier this month. Peterson was an active participant in this year's contentious contract negotiations and was the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association from 1995 to 2001.

District officials have stated that the new employee will not be involved in any way with this round of contract negotiations. If the subject comes up during a meeting, it will be tabled until the end of the meeting, when Peterson will leave the meeting, said Gary Whiteley, district assistant superintendent.

Cathy Carrow, vice president of KPEA, said she is not concerned about Peterson's move, and, instead, sees it as a boon to have such a teacher-focused person heading the district's human resources.

"Tim is a really good-hearted person," Carrow said. "He's in this business to make schools a better place. I don't see it as (him) going to the other side."

In addition, Carrow said, even if Peterson did divulge information, it wouldn't be anything the district hasn't heard before.

"It's not like we have some deep secret strategy that he'll be giving to the other side," she said. "I think the district knows what our true bottom line is."

According to Carrow, the unions have already played their hand, starting with a request of a raise slightly less than 10 percent, and reducing it to a request for a 7 percent increase in salaries.

"We have already reached our bottom line," she said.

At least one district employee doesn't agree with Carrow, however.

Phil Morin, president of the Kenai Independent Teachers Organization, an organization that has in the past challenged KPEA's representation of the district, said he isn't as comfortable with Peterson's move.

"We have grave concerns," Morin said. "As much as Donna Peterson was concerned about one e-mail message compromising the administration's bargaining position, in which she filed an unfair labor practice against KPEA, how much more concerned should we be when they have the most expert KPEA negotiation team member now as an integral part of the district's administration.

"Obviously, Mrs. Peterson did not believe KPEA when they said that the information from the e-mail didn't affect negotiations. Why does she believe we should think her more trustworthy than ourselves."

Whiteley said, however, that the comparison between the two situations is a stretch.

"There is a very big difference," he said. "One has to do with potential legal and ethical violations. Nice try. It doesn't float."

The Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.