Story last updated at 3:12 p.m. Thursday, September 26, 2002

Schools unions vote 'no confidence' in superintendent
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Teachers and support staff voted an 88 percent "no confidence" vote in district Superintendent Donna Peterson earlier this week.

Union officials said Wednesday that 784 teachers and support staff, including union and nonunion members, voted by secret ballot Tuesday. In total, 1,144 teachers and support staff work for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district, putting the voter turnout at 68 percent.

Hans Bilben, Kenai Peninsula Education Association president, said the vote was taken to let district administration know what the overwhelming sentiment is in area schools.

"Superintendent Peterson was saying she had been around to the buildings, and all the teachers were happy in their jobs," Bilben said. "There's happy, and then there's happy. Teachers are glad to be at their jobs and are doing what they do best, but there's tension in the buildings as a result of negotiations. It's not the happy crowd she claims it is. She has to realize that, and the public has to realize that."

In a prepared statement, school board President Dr. Nels Anderson called the vote a "bargaining ploy that is unprofessional and nonconstructive."

"This is simply another media blitz by the associations and (the National Education Association-Alaska) to attempt to downgrade an outstanding leader in an effort to achieve an unrealistic economic gain," Anderson wrote.

Anderson said the board stands behind Peterson and supports her leadership.

Bilben said the vote came at the request of union members, who noted the impact a similar vote had in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which recently settled its contract negotiations after the schools superintendent resigned.

But, unlike Mat-Su's vote, this vote does not ask for the resignation of the superintendent.

"There's a lot of people who respect what Donna Peterson has done over the years. We realize she has the potential to do a good job, but the negotiation process has not given people much confidence in her," Bilben said.

Bilben said union members hope the vote will bring about a new attitude from the district.

"The intent is to put forth the message that things need to change. This whole round has been contentious, with lots of stalling tactics and legal action. Things are way out of whack. We'd like to see this come back to the focus of providing adequate compensation to the employees of the district," Bilben said.

Bilben said he expects those who voted "no confidence" in Peterson would also vote in favor of a strike, if need be. He added, however, that he hopes the upcoming mediation talks will be fruitful, thus avoiding a strike vote.

For more on contract negotiations, see the related story on this page.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer-news.com.

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