The Juneau School District, following a jump in its state funding, has asked teachers back to the bargaining table.
Talks between the 350-member Juneau Education Association and the school district stalled last month over raises, and the parties had agreed to mediation on May 23.
But schools Superintendent Gary Bader said he has asked teachers to resume negotiations Thursday morning if the union can get together its negotiating team that quickly.
"We will do our best to assemble our team," said Clay Good, one of the union negotiators. "We are eager to go to the table."
The school district now has more money to spend, thanks to an increase in the per-pupil funding from the state passed late in the recent legislative session.
Next school year, Juneau will get $655,700 more than it would have under the previous funding formula, district administrators said. The changes to the formula upped the district's state funding by $809,600 and lowered the city's contribution by $153,900. The schools' operating budget is now expected to be $37.97 million for about 5,400 students.
Bader said the extra funds may be used to pay for new contracts, bring back some laid-off teachers and fund equipment and supplies.
Teachers held their second informational picket in as many school board meetings Tuesday night.
Several teachers and one high school student spoke at the board meeting, saying teachers deserve raises.
Teachers work more days and make less per day now than in 1994, and also pay more for their health insurance and face rising expenses from inflation, teacher Duane Bonk told the school board, using a whiteboard to show the decline in his daily pay.
"This is demoralizing, and it is contagious, and I urge you to correct this," teacher Barbara Campbell told the board.
Teachers said wages on the salary schedule haven't risen since 1994, and have been frozen longer than that for teachers at the top of the schedule, which rewards experience and college credits.
In some years since 1994 teachers didn't move up the salary schedule, or did so only halfway through the year. Teachers said a beginning teacher in Juneau has $4,300 less spending power today than in 1994 because of inflation and a lower starting salary.
Some teachers said they have to work in the summer to pay the bills, and some qualify for low-income housing.
Vincent Allen, a Juneau-Douglas High School senior, said teachers stay after school to help students and they create innovative programs.
"They're really working hard above and beyond what they're paid to do," he told the board.
School board member Chuck Cohen said teachers didn't attend the school district's budget meetings where allocation of funds is considered. There would be better discussions during collective bargaining if teachers understood the school district's limitations, he said.
When the union goes around the negotiating process and "goes directly to the board with a parade it gets some board members' backs up," Cohen said.
In addition to more operating funds, the school district also received a one-time state grant of $505,300 for next school year, about double a similar grant this school year, to help students meet academic standards. It likely will go to summer classes, tutoring and teacher development, Bader said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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