Teachers' union negotiates pay hike

Starting salaries poised to increase 18.7 percent by 2011-12 school year

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009

Negotiators with the Juneau School District and the union representing nearly 400 teachers have hammered out a contract agreement that could raise teachers' pay by thousands of dollars, the district announced Friday.

The tentative agreement, which is still subject to approval by the Juneau School Board and the membership of the Juneau Education Association, would bump the starting salary of a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience up from $38,384 this school year to $45,570 by the 2011-2012 school year.

That's an increase of $7,186 or 18.7 percent. The tentative agreement calls for similar increases across the entire salary schedule for various levels of experience, professional certification and education.

If approved, a new teacher hired this school year at $38,384 could earn $49,339 by the start of their fourth year of teaching with no additional education or professional certifications.

The actual pay bump is defined by a combination of annual flat dollar increases and percent increases applied to every step in the pay scale. For a teacher who has maxed out the pay scale, the increase works out to 12.5 percent, or $9,270 more over the next three years. All other pay steps fall between the new teacher and master teacher range.

The tentative agreement is a product of months of negotiations that ended Thursday night in a professional mediation session, the result of a negotiations impasse the district announced March 16.

"I'm optimistic that these will be ratified," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

The tentative agreement follows the School Board's preliminary approval of a budget Tuesday that included dozens of cuts worth about $3 million, including the elimination of 13 teaching positions. That budget included an estimate of $3.3 million in new spending for increased salaries and benefits.

Speaking for the union, Gastineau Elementary School teacher Ben Kriegmont avoided direct comment about the apparent seesaw effect of higher pay translating into cuts in programs and positions. The decision of what to cut falls to the School Board, Kriegmont said.

"I'm very thrilled we could get the tentative agreement so we can focus on teaching," Kriegmont said.

During the negotiations process, many teachers publicly spoke about the need for parity in pay to stay competitive with districts in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and even Ketchikan.

The district on March 12 announced a tentative agreement with Juneau Educational Support Staff, which represents about 300 non-teacher employees. Negotiations with a third and final union, the Juneau School Administrators Association, are still pending. That group represents another 25 employees.

The contract process for all three unions is on a three-year rotation.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.

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