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Some Juneau teachers cutting back hours

Change comes during labor negotiations between district, teachers

Posted: December 3, 2013 - 1:02am

Negotiations between the Juneau Education Association and the Juneau School District remain unresolved at a private bargaining table, and some teachers are now taking action. 

Email messages were sent out to parents this week and last announcing that some teachers would no longer be available to parents or students after the final school bell rings each day, and that take-home work such as grading would also not be done after hours. 

“The job that we do is nearly impossible in the time we are paid to do it,” one email from a Riverbend Elementary School teacher read. “Many of my colleagues and I do hours and hours of work beyond what we get paid for on a daily basis — either at school or at home. We choose to do that because it directly benefits your children and the quality of their education, which is of the utmost importance to us. Yet, the more of our own time we spend on our jobs, the more it is simply becoming the expectation.”

The move is a response to the stalemate between the teachers and the district over a new collective bargaining agreement. The email from the Riverbend teacher and another from a middle school teacher emphasized that the change is expected to be temporary.

“As some of you may know, there is currently a labor dispute between the JEA teachers union and the Juneau School District,” says an email sent last week by a Floyd Dryden Middle School teacher. “Because of this dispute, and because our voices do not appear to be heard, the teachers feel we must take action.”

The contracted hours in both emails generally corresponded to the school day, with some teachers being off-contract during their lunch break.

“This was a difficult decision because we’re in it for the kids, not for the money,” said Juneau Education Association Vice President Dirk Miller. “We’re talking about just working our contract hours, but we so regularly go beyond that. It’s a way of life for us.”

The teachers often attend evening meetings, run after school events and meet with students during their lunch hours, Miller said.

“This is all going on and we don’t even have a cost-of-living increase,” he said. “It’s hard to keep doing all this and keep smiling.”

The Juneau School Board announced via email Monday that there will be a special board meeting Wednesday with the topic being an “Executive Session on Collective Bargaining.”

The Juneau Education Association is having a general membership meeting Thursday entitled “Strike Preparation.”

“The meeting will be about asking, ‘What can we do to let the community know what’s going on and raise awareness,’” Miller said.

The emails sent to parents of school children about teachers changing their working schedules both concluded by encouraging parents to contact Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich and the school board with their concerns about the impact on the children’s education or the impact of the contract-only hours infringing on the parents’ ability to contact teachers.

“It’s not just about us — It’s about the future of Juneau education,” Miller said. “If we don’t do this right, and quality educators stop coming to Juneau, what will it look like in five, 10, 15 years?”

Teachers have previously said that two of their top priorities for this round of negotiations are a cost-of-living pay increase and agreeing on a multi-year contract. 

“We just want to get back to teaching and not worrying about the contract stuff,” Miller said.

The school district did not respond to a call about this story as of press time.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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