Story last updated at 3:09 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

School employees urge board to settle contract
by Carey James
Staff Writer

In the middle of a hiatus from contentious contract talks, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education met in Homer on Monday night and was greeted by a few voices of opposition to the way negotiations have been conducted.

An average-sized audience turned out for the twice-yearly Homer meeting of the board, and testimony from teachers and support staff ranged from words of encouragement to settle the contract quickly to stronger opinions about the board's actions thus far.

Jill Showman, a teacher at Voznesenka, said she has great respect for her coworkers, who she said often work extra hours on their own initiative to get the job done.

"I am constantly amazed at what we are able to do with a lack of funds," she said. "I urge you to treat us as professionals and settle the contract."

Chris Perk, athletic director for Homer High School, told the board that he is not getting paid for the number of years he has worked.

"I'm trying to keep a positive attitude about it all," he said. "I urge you to move forward with the negotiation process."

Board member and Homer resident Deb Germano questioned whether Perk had read the specifics of the district's last contract offer. Perk said he had been told about it. Germano urged him to read it for himself.

Molly Brann, who works at the Kachemak Selo school, urged board members to come visit her classroom, which she said is 18-by-32-feet. She said board members have yet to visit her school.

Ellen Halseth, a Homer High teacher, said the contract talks have taken their toll on district employees' spirit, and urged the district to find a speedy and equitable settlement.

"It's difficult under these circumstances to maintain the kind of morale that helps us be the best teachers we can be," Halseth said.

Terri Woodward, the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association president, said the board needs to recognize the many hard-working employees in the district.

"There are so many employees who really, truly put their heart and soul into this job," Woodward said. "This is way too long at the table. Let's get going and get this done."

At the end of the meeting, Germano commented that she does appreciate the employees of the school district, but "respect is a two-way street."

"I encourage all employees to look at (the contract)," she said, adding that when she has a conversation about the contract talks with an employee, she likes to know they have read "the same book." Germano said she encouraged anyone with concerns to contact her to discuss it.

The board did more than listen to testimony from employees, however. Earlier in the day, members discussed legislative priorities for the upcoming year. Most concurred that focusing on overall funding issues is in the district's best interest, but others said the upcoming review of the cost of living on the Kenai Peninsula may be a more effective area to focus on.

District Superintendent Donna Peterson said she believes the cost of living study is due out in November.

In other news, the board welcomed Cameron Poindexter, son of board member Al Poindexter of Anchor Point, as student representative on the school board.

The board also congratulated member Debra Mullins for receiving the Don MacKinnon Excellence in Education and Human Service award as the state's school board member of the year.

The board also voted to go against the recommendation of the district administration and grant a one-year unpaid leave of absence to Kate Carmody, head custodian at Sears Elementary School in Kenai. Carmody had taken unpaid leave in the past five years, and granting another leave goes against standard board policy.

The board noted that Carmody was well respected in her school, and that an exception can be made in her case.