The realization that current Juneau School District superintendent Glenn Gelbrich is looking for a new job isn’t likely to make things easier on him or the JSD during upcoming meetings with its teachers union.
The arbitration process underway between the district and the Juneau Education Association hasn’t gone as smoothly as either side had hoped. After two months of negotiating they are still $10 million apart on reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. But now, teachers know that the person negotiating on behalf of the district might not be around to deal with the aftermath, for better or worse.
What’s unfortunate is that no matter how negotiations play out, Gelbrich will be an easy target to blame. Teachers, parents and members of the community will likely be skeptical of whatever stance the district takes as the arbitration process continues.
If the school district gives in to union demands and gives teachers the pay raise they want, it could very well be our next superintendent who is left with the responsibility of cutting positions to balance the district’s budget. If the district holds firm that Juneau can’t afford the raises without making future cuts and teachers strike as a result, people will blame Gelbrich, saying he doesn’t care about the outcome and was negotiating with nothing to lose. It’s a no-win situation, and one that we don’t envy.
Our superintendent is tasked with running the business side of schools, and balancing demands from many different parties. There’s money coming in and money going out, and Gelbrich has said he’s trying to make sure the district doesn’t spend more than it has. JEA has repeatedly referred to Anchorage and how its teachers received pay raises. What no one is talking about is how Anchorage schools are facing a $49 million deficit over the next two years and will likely cut 580 staff positions to balance the budget. The Juneau School District has already reduced its budget by $11.8 million in recent years. School officials told the Empire recently their goal is to not have to reduce it any further, especially since future cuts will come from payroll.
Even still, any decision Gelbrich makes will be a hard pill to swallow, and even the noblest of intentions will be interpreted negatively when all is said and done. Either he gives raises and positions are cut next year, or he doesn’t and teachers are left feeling unappreciated and under-compensated. In both situations members of our community will make Gelbrich a scapegoat, which is unfair but also the reality of public service.
A possible solution we see is for another member of the school district’s administration to join its bargaining team when negotiations resume. Our community — our students, teachers and support staff included — must have someone at the bargaining table representing the district who will still have a dog in this fight when classes start next year. Because as of now, none of us can say for sure who the superintendent will be when the first class bell rings in the fall.