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Educators speak out on school funding, contract issues

Kenai Peninsula educators are facing issues left and right.

At an open meeting hosted by Kenai Peninsula Education Association President David Brighton at Resurrect Art Coffee House on Friday, local teachers, district staff and the community were invited to discuss issues facing the school district.

The three main issues, Brighton said, are the state budget, the borough budget and contract negotiations.

At a state level, the school district is facing cuts of nearly $325 million for education and early childhood development in Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed budget.

“That works out to 200 teachers on the peninsula,” Brighton said. “Right now we have 650 teachers. I don’t know what programs we could keep … We don’t want to consider this; we need to fight back … I don’t want to live in Mike Dunleavy’s Alaska.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough also plays a role in the school district’s budget, Brighton added. Each year, the borough decides how much to budget for the school district. The borough has the ability to fund up to a certain amount, called the cap, but has been funding below this cap in recent years.

Brighton urged educators and parents to reach out to borough assembly members, state legislators and board of education members to reiterate the importance of funding education.

He also urged teachers and the community to reach out to the district about contract negotiations.

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 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.

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.

“It could get to the point of striking,” said National Education Association – Alaska President Tim Parker, who was also on hand addressing the issues facing teachers on the peninsula, across the state and throughout the nation.

Parker highlighted strikes across the country, including Denver and Los Angeles, where teachers are fighting back to receive increased compensation.

“There is a shortage of educators, especially teachers,” Parker said. “We’re pretty highly valued out there. Our state is decreasing salaries for teachers while other states are increasing… People want our services. We hope that Alaska wants our services. We really love this state and we’re not looking to leave, but we hope that we’re getting compensated and we want to see great education.”

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.

Brighton said that following the negotiations, salaries were increased by 1.5 percent in the 2016/2017 school year and an additional 1.5 percent in the 2017/2018 school year.

Assistant Superintendent Dave O’Brien said, though, that everyone should be focused on education funding.

“Negotiations aside — the district, the teachers associations, the support association, the parents, the PTAs — we truly do need to coalesce and come together if we’re going to convince our legislators that the Alaska we want to live in is not the Alaska with that 25 percent budget cut,” O’Brien said.

The district will be hosting community budget forums at the Seward High School library on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.