Representatives from the Juneau Education Association and Juneau School District have failed to reach an agreement for a new collective bargaining contract, so today the sides will begin working through an arbitrator.
The sides met multiple times during the past school year, but there was little to no progress made — a fact bargaining support volunteer Molly Box attributes to a lack of effort by the Juneau School District.
“You can’t come in and do this ‘take it or leave it’ offer,” said Box, an AVID teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. “The district has pretty much refused to negotiate, and has not moved at all in monetary or non-monetary issues.”
Box is part of a team of volunteers working under Juneau Education Association President Ricky Bass to support the union’s negotiation team.
The negotiation team’s top priorities heading into the arbitration phase are cost-of-living salary increases and a three-year contract, Box said. Juneau teachers are currently working without a contract after signing a one-year deal last year.
“It takes all the focus away from where it should be, and that’s in the classroom,” she said of having to negotiate new contracts every year.
School district officials have declined to talk about specific desires as they head into the next segment of negotiations.
“What happens at the bargaining table needs to remain at the table,” said Sally Saddler, president of the Juneau School Board.
Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the district is struggling to find a balance between offering a fair and competitive salary and benefits package for the teachers and having enough money remaining to fund high-quality experiences in the classroom.
Other school districts in the state have included in contracts with their teachers unions cost-of-living increases, Box said.
“They’re prolonging a process that shouldn’t have to take that long, and they’re not budgeting for their teachers,” she said. “Not budgeting for a modest cost of living raise is irresponsible in my book.”
If the district continues to refuse such an increase in Juneau it won’t be long before high-quality teachers go elsewhere to work, Box added.
The looming contract negotiations were a hot topic at the school board’s monthly meeting Tuesday with several members of the public complaining about the way the district handled negotiations last year and how they have responded to teachers’ concerns since.
Special needs teacher Gene Randall said he had “no confidence” that the body had the students’ and community’s best interests at heart, and added that multiple requests made by special needs teachers have been ignored.
He also added that those concerns have often been met by “dismissal, disrespect and disdain” from school officials. At the end of the board meeting, board clerk Andi Story emphasized that Randall’s complaints will be looked into and addressed.
There was particular contention at the meeting over the district announcing that last year’s end balance was actually about $754,000 more than the budget projected. The district is also facing about a $1 million shortfall in state and city funding for this year’s budget due to lower-than-projected enrollment numbers.
Director of Administrative Services David Means told board members Tuesday that the $754,000 carry-over balance was “typical” based on previous years’ carry-over amounts. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
Saddler said during Tuesday’s school board meeting the money is unlikely to go toward a new contract for the teachers. She would prefer it go toward increasing the district’s emergency fund.
“That’s not transparent if you’re cushioning everything in your budget,” Box said of recurring surpluses of this magnitude.
Budgetary reasons were a part of the board’s controversial decision last month to ban middle school sports travel starting next year, and were the reason the district moved away from having a nurse at every school this year.
Now, the motives behind those decisions are being scrutinized by teachers and members of the public.
“It’s part of a brainwashing of ‘we’re broke, we can’t afford a raise for you,’” Box said. “The teachers aren’t going to buy that anymore.”