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Teachers, district staff to talk contracts, budget and more Friday at Rez Art

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President David Brighton and local Seward teachers and school staff will meet at Resurrect Art Coffee House on Friday, Feb. 15 at 4:30 p.m. to hold an open conversation with the community about issues facing the school district, including contract negotiations.

Friday’s meeting comes after this week’s Kenai Peninsula Board of Education meeting, where hundreds of teachers and district staff filled borough chambers, all wearing red in support of education.

District teachers and staff are in the second semester of the school year and have been working without a renewed contract since July 1, meaning they are working without knowing how exactly how much they’ll be making this school year.

The school district, the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Education started collective bargain negotiations in January of 2018, which include salary, benefits and working conditions. Initial offers were made by all parties, but were rejected and negotiations have reached an impasse.

The unions and the school district are expected to go into arbitration at the end of the month, but district staff said they hope to find an agreeable contract sooner. 

At Monday’s board meeting, Stephanie Cronin of Seward gave public testimony, speaking for teachers and staff throughout the district.

“Teachers want to stay here to work and raise families, but the lack of a contract and constant uncertainty about the costs of healthcare are making it hard for many to stay,” Cronin said.

“We look around the country and we see our colleagues standing up demanding that they are respected,” Cronin said. “We are feeling the pain and frustration that our fellow educators felt in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Los Angeles and this is what it would look like here on the Kenai Peninsula.”

After Cronin’s comments, employees left the assembly chambers and took to the parking lot, where they rallied in support of a fair contract. Some mentions of a strike were made throughout the meeting and rally, but there are currently no official plans. Employees must give the district 72 hours advanced notice before going on strike. 

Lengthy negotiations are nothing new for the district. The 2015 to 2018 contract negotiations began in February of 2015, but stretched out over 18 months, with the board approving agreements with the unions in November of 2016. 

The district now also faces the added stress of Governor Dunleavy’s proposed budget, which proposes slashing over $325 million from the education and early childhood development budget. 

The public is invited to Friday’s open meeting at Resurrect Art Coffee House to discuss contracts and the budget as well as increases in pupil to teacher ratios, critical positions that remain unfilled, upsurge in student behavior issues, legislative actions, funding and how the community can get involved.