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School concerts cancelled

Student musicians feel toll of labor dispute with District

Posted: December 10, 2013 - 1:07am

Students are continuing to feel the effects of the ongoing labor dispute between the Juneau School District and its teachers as multiple school concerts have been postponed indefinitely.

The band and choir “Winter Concerts” at Floyd Dryden Middle School scheduled for Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 have been called off, as have the band concerts at Thunder Mountain High School on the same days. Concerts at Auke Bay Elementary and Juneau-Douglas High School have also been removed from the schedule.

“We’re not paid for putting on any concert outside our school day. We never have been,” said Brian VanKirk, the band teacher at Thunder Mountain.

Music teachers met during last week’s Juneau Education Association general membership meeting to determine what exactly “working to the rule” of the contract means for them, Floyd Dryden Band and Choir teacher Mike Bucy said. The result was most after-hours concerts getting the axe — at least for now.

“It’s time to solidify people throughout the union,” VanKirk said. “It’s not a bunch of individuals. It’s a bunch of people coming together for a common goal.”

He added that once a contract is agreed to by the teachers and school district, he plans to reschedule the concerts.

Floyd Dryden parents were notified by Bucy via email on Monday.

“This is a difficult decision because your kids and I work hard to prepare these concerts and we love to perform for you,” Bucy wrote in the email. “I have never been hesitant to put in all the extra hours it takes to produce these concerts, but in this particular instance, I must stand with the other teachers of the District who are working to the rule of our contract day.”

The move is a response to the Juneau School District not responding favorably to “good faith” negotiating efforts by the teacher’s union negotiating team, he added.

“It is really unfortunate,” Bucy said. “It’s sad and frustrating to have to go here, because it feels that the district is wanting to pick a fight and I don’t know why. It’s not all about money.”

Some music teachers in the district have opted to go ahead with the concerts despite others cancelling. Bucy said one such teacher is Missouri Smyth, also from Floyd Dryden. Similarly, one parent of a Dzantik’i Heeni flute player said her child’s teacher, Karen Rigdon, told the students that they “deserve to play because they’ve worked hard.”

Also cancelled was an evening performance of the Nutcracker at Auke Bay Elementary, which was scheduled for Dec. 19. A second performance, however, is still scheduled to take place the next day during school hours.

A week ago, several Juneau teachers emailed parents announcing a change in their availability. They said they would no longer be accessible to students or parents after their contract hours end. Contract hours usually begin 30 minutes before the first bell rings and 30 minutes after the last bell.

Not all extracurricular activities are being affected since many teachers have separate extra-duty contracts, Juneau School District Chief-of-Staff Kristin Bartlett said in an interview last week.

At the union general membership meeting last Thursday, the teachers voted to authorize the union’s executive board to schedule a strike vote at any time the leading board deems necessary, according to a press release sent out by the body following the meeting.

“JEA members reluctantly voted tonight to authorize a strike vote should efforts at bargaining a successor agreement be unsuccessful,” Dirk Miller, vice president of the JEA, said in the release.

According to Bucy, if something doesn’t change in the district’s approach to bargaining, a strike vote may be imminent.

“It almost felt as if the district is daring the teachers to push this,” Bucy said of the negotiating team’s presentation to the teachers.

A strike by Ketchikan teachers in November of 1999 lasted three days and ultimately ended with the teachers getting a 6 percent salary increase over a three-year contract after asking for a 6.5 percent bump over a two-year deal.

Anchorage support staff also went on strike in 1999, and teachers there went on strike for a day in 1994.

“That’s where this is ultimately going if it has too,” Bucy said, “though we certainly don’t want it to.”

• 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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