As the ongoing labor dispute between the Juneau School District and its teachers nears its one-year anniversary, there is hope among teachers that the end may be in sight.
If not, a strike is growing more and more possible.
Teachers urged school board members Tuesday night to “seriously consider” their proposal submitted last week in hopes of ending the dispute.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to bargain with the district until now,” said Willie Anderson, the UniServ Director for the Alaska branch of the National Education Association. “So we made an offer we think will at least get us close to a settlement.”
The offer ask for a two-year contract instead of the union’s previously requested three-year deal, and the salary increases proposed are less than before, Anderson said.
It also includes a provision where teachers would share some of the increase in healthcare costs with the district, Anderson added.
“We’ve asked for an increase that will attempt to cover the cost-of-living increase in Alaska last year,” he said. “Not everyone will get that much, but everyone will get something.”
The increases in the first year of the deal are not consistent across the board, but every teacher would see some degree of pay increase beyond the step-and-column increases, he said. In the second year, all teachers would get a 2 percent pay bump.
“The money is in the budget without impacting any programs,” Anderson said.
If a settlement is not reached soon, there was a recurring sentiment among multiple teachers during the public comment portion of the meeting that a strike could be a on the horizon.
“Our offer is a serious offer. Let us get back to doing what we love,” kindergarten teacher Semra Deaner said. “We don’t want to strike, but trust me; we are ready, we are willing, and, if we are pushed to that point, we will.”
The board went into executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss the JEA’s Jan. 8 offer. A bargaining session planned for Thursday.
“I’m optimistic about this offer,” said JEA vice-president Dirk Miller, “but it’s not in our hands. We’ve been moving, now we need them to move.”
School Board President Sally Saddler said any progress that bring the two sides “toward a mutual agreement is a step in the right direction.”
“We have a sincere and honest interest in working out any differences so we can avoid a strike,” she said, “because nobody benefits in a strike.”
Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich wasn’t at the meeting Tuesday night. He was in Kalispell, Mont., interviewing for the same job in that district but is expected to be back in time for the bargaining session Thursday.
Eleven of the 12 public commenters on non-action items testified about the negotiations, and several had signs in the Juneau-Douglas High School library from picketing before the meeting began.
“Next week it will have been a year we’ve been negotiating,” said JoAnn Jones of Auke Bay Elementary. “It’s been a very long time, and it’s ridiculous.”
The board also discussed a number of capital improvement projects and facility projects that are being considered as next year’s budget is being developed.
One of the top items discussed is a $13.97 million renovation of the Mendenhall River Community School.
“We are in dire need,” said Sunshine Wind, a physical education teacher at the school. “Our gym floor has been warped for years, and no matter how many times we’ve brought it up, it always has been pushed to the back burner.”
Wind added that the school has to vie with multiple programs for facility space, and that students regularly trip while running on the aged gym floor.
“We feel as if we’re really being stuffed in a corner,” she said.
Ruby Steedle, the student representative from JDHS, posed several questions about a $60,000 line-item for clocks at JDHS.
Director of Administrative Services David Means said the more expensive clocks run about $200 each, and they are chosen to maintain the most order when classes are scheduled to let out.
“You really want synchronized clocks,” he said.
As of press time, the board was still in executive session discussing the teacher’s offer.