The stalemate between the Juneau School District and its teachers union is over.
At a special meeting Thursday evening, the district’s Board of Education approved an agreement made in January with the Juneau Education Association to forge a new two-year contract for teachers, increasing pay and benefits. JEA ratified the same agreement Wednesday.
The board discussed the proposed contract in executive session Thursday before voting to approve it, after 18 months of contentious negotiations with the teachers union.
“We’ll have a lot less executive sessions because a lot of them were around the contracts,” board Vice President Sean O’Brien said after the meeting.
According to a district news release, highlights of the new agreement include:
• Salary increase: Funds from a health trust set aside will be shifted from the trust to the salary schedule, adding $1,447 per teacher. In addition, the salary schedule will increase by 1.5 percent effective Jan. 10 and an additional 1 percent for the next school year. This increase is in addition to step and column increases teachers earn for additional experience and education.
• Health insurance: The district’s contribution to teachers’ health insurance will increase by $10 per month for the current year and an additional $50 per month next year.
• Professional development set aside: The amount set aside for a professional leave account will increase from $50 per teacher to $70 per teacher each year. This fund is managed by a committee of teachers and administrators.
• Personal leave: Teachers will have fewer personal leave days available, but more of those days are paid leave.
The contract also includes language to benefit the district’s special education teachers, JEA bargaining team spokeswoman and Juneau-Douglas High School teacher Sara Hannan said. The teachers will no longer be able to be reassigned to another building by the district without notice and without the ability to appeal the decision.
“They’re pretty pleased with that because they have not had that right,” she said.
Per the new contract, this school year’s additional employee costs to the district will be $400,000, the release stated. The estimated additional costs to the district for next year are $890,000 for the pay increases of JEA members and $618,000 for those of others.
O’Brien said the district can afford the increases, but there may be an added cost. Because teacher salaries make up the majority of the district’s budget, he said, the increase could lead to additional layoffs or prevent future hiring. The district recently announced a $4.8 million budget shortfall heading into next year.
“Salaries and benefits are roughly 90 percent of our district budget, so any time those numbers are changed it has about a 90 percent effect on the budget,” he said. “That’s why we couldn’t afford a lot. Any time you increase pay and increase benefits, you will have less money for the workforce, for positions.”
Hannan disagreed. She believes the district will be able to retain the teachers it has, and the raises will make the district competitive in hiring.
“I think they’re pretty modest increases,” she said. “I believe they will be able to meet the 1 percent raise for next year without having to lay off additional teachers.”
The agreement affects the current school year and the next year. Negotiations for the next contract will begin in December, Hannan said.
O’Brien said the district and JEA were able to come to an agreement because the two sides came progressively closer and closer together on their expectations. At the beginning of negotiations, the sides were $25 million apart, he said.
At the beginning of the process, “we didn’t come in really low or really high; we came in with numbers we thought the district could afford,” O’Brien said. The agreement ratified this week “wasn’t that far off from the (district’s) original proposal,” he said.
He said the school board is happy it can move on from negotiations and spend time working on other things — at least until December when the process starts over again.
“We’re looking forward to working forward on a partnership to help our kids, and having the contract settled and behind us I think allows us to do that,” O’Brien said. “A lot of time and energy goes into the negotiation process and there’s a lot of people involved. To be able to take that energy and time and move it into other directions, I think it’s a lot more proactive and productive for our kids. We’re all kind of relieved to be able to do that.”