• Teachers gain 2 percent pay increase
By Jenny Neyman
Bargaining teams for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the Kenai Peninsula Education and Education Support Associations reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract Thursday, after 14 months of negotiations. The contract now will go to a vote of the associations’ memberships and the KPBSD Board of Education. If approved, it will go into effect retroactively from July 1, 2012 and extend through June 30, 2015.
Neither team expressed elation over where the contract ended up, but both said it was an agreement they could live with.
“I think we’re comfortable with where we settled,” said Sean Dusek, KPSBD assistant superintendent of instruction. “We’re going to have to take a close look at our finances over the years. Costs continue to grow and this is a publicly funded enterprise and we need to be fiscally responsible, so that’s always going to be part of the equation.”
“We had to work the language to the point where the bargaining team felt like this is as good as it’s going to get for us right now. We need to go out and answer questions and let the membership decide,” said LaDawn Druce, president of KPEA.
Negotiations began in January 2012, went through mediation last spring and nonbinding arbitration this fall. The release of the arbitrator’s report in December helped move things forward on the highest-dollar sticking points, salary and health care.
The contract the teams signed off on Thursday largely follows the arbitrator’s recommendations, including:
• 2 percent pay increase per year.
• A change in health care contributions, with the district shouldering more of the cost of the self-funded system. In the first year the district will pay 80 percent of the costs and employees 20 percent, moving to a 83 percent-17 percent split in year two and a 85 percent-15 percent split in year three.
• Elimination of a 50-50 split of costs overruns in health care. Now any cost overruns will be split at the same ratio as funding the health insurance system.
• Elimination of monthly employee contributions for dependent and spouse health care coverage.
The only deviation was in the structure, function and purview of the Health Care Committee, which determines plan benefits. The district wanted greater say in the committee, since it was taking on more financial burden for health care costs. The terms agreed to call for three members of the committee to be district employees appointed by the superintendent. Further, the committee must vote on any proposed changes in benefits or increases in administrative expenses, with an 80 percent majority required for passage of motions.
“We’re pleased with pieces that we were passionate about. We definitely felt strongly about the committee and needing to be a part of that decision making, and that ended up happening,” Dusek said.
Hammering out the details of committee membership dominated several negotiation sessions, with discussions sometimes centering on just one word.
Druce said that such specificity was important to the associations because they felt blindsided by the district proposing to change the committee a year into negotiations — the first proposal regarding the committee came Jan. 22, after the arbitrator’s response was released in December 2012.
“We know that health care can play such a major part in (employees’) livelihood. They had said all along, ‘A raise is great but if we cannot control our health care costs we don’t see the benefits of that raise.’ So to have a totally different mechanism put into place for that in terms of that committee, we had to scrutinize it for what it could look like. Our lens is through representing our employees in the best possible way.”
The associations will now meet with members to present the terms of the contract and answer questions. Electronic voting will be held April 1.
The final contract must also go before the school board for approval before it can go into effect.
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