Dozens of Juneau Education Association members have spoken out against an initial proposal from the Juneau School District as the two bodies try to work out an agreement to replace a soon-to-expire contract.
JEA members have told the school board they have found the proposal to be disrespectful and would eliminate their ability to have “academic freedom” in how they teach their classes to the curriculum.
“The key point around negotiations for us is to keep our members’ contract, keeping up with the inflation,” said JEA President Ben Kriegmont. “We’ve asked for a pay increase, we’ve asked for assistance in health care costs. That’s really what our proposal deals with.”
JEA’s contract proposal also included more minor things — like increasing teacher preparation time and extra compensation for extra duties like coaching or after-school activity instruction.
“When we start to look at changes, we lost some of our reading specialists and others in the schools, which places a bigger burden on the classroom teachers and it takes more time to develop those materials,” Kriegmont said. “One thing that is important to remember is that sometimes that gets confused with student time. It doesn’t mean they are being taught less, they are simply moved to another teacher’s instruction.”
The district’s initial contract proposal went the opposite way — proposing pay decreases — and opened up 30 of the current contract’s 42 articles for discussion.
“Thirty out of 42 is really pretty disturbing and unusual,” Kriegmont said.
Kriegmont said traditionally only 10-15 articles are opened up in a given year.
JSD Human Resources Director Phil Bedford said it shouldn’t be considered unusual because every time the contract is negotiated, the entire contract is actually up.
As for pay, the district’s initial proposal calls for pay decreases and freezes, Kriegmont said.
“One of the striking differences is teachers will not only be frozen on the pay schedule — no yearly increase or step increase, but the district also want to reduce each cell by 2 percent,” Kriegmont said. “They want teachers to take a pay decrease on top of foregoing step increases. They are also asking teachers to work an extra half hour, which amounts to about 11 additional days for no extra compensation.”
Kriegmont said there also is concern with some things the district proposes to eliminate — anti-discrimination language, safety language and academic freedom.
Kriegmont said teachers currently have the ability to adapt their teaching to be more applicable to students in the classroom.
“That has been gutted,” he said. “We’ve really worked hard over the last 25 years to get safety issues in the contracts. ... It gives us a language to try and address and correct issues that create an unsafe environment for staff or students. It is disheartening that the district would try to eliminate that language.”
Bedford said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the contracts — such as why safety and anti-discrimination language is proposed to be removed — because of bargaining agreements.
“We have been meeting regularly and have been having some very good conversation around much of the negotiated agreement,” he said. “I think that we’re working collaboratively to reach a successor agreement. I think that some of the public comment that has been made with regards to the initial proposals is certainly not the same tone as the conversations we’re having during the negotiations process. ... Both parties are negotiating in good faith and working to resolve any issues that remain outstanding.”
While negotiations will likely change both proposals, Kriegmont said if the district proposal were to be approved as-is, teachers would lose between $15,000 and $20,000 a year in salaries, and would have more of a dampening effect on morale than already has occurred just from the proposals. Kriegmont said the dollar figure comes from not only the proposed pay cut, but also the increase in what the district wants them to pay in health care, freezing step increases, and it accounts for what teachers would make if they were paid for the additional hours proposed under the current agreement. Kriegmont said there also is another proposed change to health insurance that will increase costs for employees. What occurs now is the district puts funds into an account for those who opt-out of the district plan and are used to reduce the overall JEA insurance costs. That is also slated for a cut.
“Energized teachers have started to feel unwanted and unrespected by the district,” Kriegmont said. “Some teachers are looking at leaving — relocating, retiring, getting out of the profession. It just takes so much creativity, energy and enthusiasm for what we do.”
Kriegmont is hopeful that the two can come to an agreement.
“We’re hopeful and we are working as much as we can to reach a fair resolution,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done before we’re going to get there.”
Leah Heiman, who teaches science at Floyd Dryden Middle School, was one of the teachers who addressed the school board recently. One of her primary concerns was the decrease in teacher prep time.
“I have 92 students this year and utilize every minute of my prep,” she said. “I spend countless hours outside my contract time. There is always too much to do and too little time to do it.”
Heiman said she manages a lot of supplies, creates engaging lessons, reviews student work and science notebooks, conducts labs, and collaborate with team members.
“The time we have doesn’t give me enough time to do a fraction of that,” she said. “If I only did grading in my prep time, that would give me less than a minute a day per student. If you want teachers to do a quality job, you need to give them time to be more than a baby sitter.”
Andrea Stasyszen, math teacher at JDHS, used Alaska Department of Labor statistics to show there was a 3.2 percent increase in the consumer price index, yet the district is proposing a 2 percent pay cut for teachers — among the other decreases. She also said the turnover rate for math teachers in the district has traditionally been high.
“This is one more cut making it nearly impossible for this teacher to make ends meet,” she said. “What kind of teachers are they hoping to attract with this proposal? Certainly not the world-class teachers that are smart enough to do the math.”
Earlier in February, teachers spoke out on the importance of retaining their ability to teach with academic freedom.
Allison Smith, second-grade teacher at Auke Bay Elementary School, was one who urged the district to reconsider.
“The reworded article as it stands would erode the quality of instruction at Juneau schools,” she said. “Does the adopted curriculum accomplish what it says it will? It does not always reflect the diversity of our student population. The proposed article states that teacher practices will be data-oriented and result-driven, which begs the question which data, what results?”
Jennifer Thompson, second-grade teacher at Harborview Elementary School, said she has received national recognition for excellence in teaching.
“Each of them was for creative teaching to meet the individual needs for students,” she said. “Innovation and integration of creative content is the United States school system. I have to express my concern with a contract that limits academic freedom. We do not need to go backwards. ... This leaves out professional opportunities that all teachers bring.”
The current contract ends June 30. Should the parties not come to an agreement, the current contract remains in place until a new agreement is reached.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.