Teachers, district headed to arbitration after mediation

Teachers union says its willing to strike over salary, health premiums

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2004

The Juneau School District and its teachers will move on to arbitration after an all-day mediation session Wednesday failed to produce a contract.

Teachers will start the school year without a contract and are preparing for a strike in September, said Molly Box, spokeswoman for the Juneau Education Association, the 340-member union that represents teachers, counselors, psychologists and other specialists.

"We were unable to come to an agreement today," said Superintendent Peggy Cowan in a statement issued Wednesday evening, "but are hopeful that the arbitration process this summer will lead us to a settlement."

Teachers are seeking movement up the salary schedule, which rewards teachers with more money for added years of experience and further college credits. They also want the salary at each step to be increased. And they want the district to provide more money for teachers' monthly health insurance premiums.

The parties have been discussing a two-year contract. The current contract expires June 30.

Nonbinding arbitration is scheduled for June 29 and the arbitrator's decision is expected in late July, Box said.

After arbitration, the district is expected to give its last best offer. If it produces a tentative agreement, the union would need time to bring it back to the members after they return for the next school year, Box said.

If there is no tentative agreement, the union would move forward with plans to strike in early September, she said.

In negotiations this year the district initially offered a freeze on salaries and benefits pending word from the Legislature on whether there would be a boost in state funds for schools.

Without it, the district projected laying off 26 teachers for next school year, mostly due to lack of funds.

But new state funding of $82 million has provided Juneau with $3.1 million more in state funds.

"Based on additional funding from the Legislature, the district invited the teachers back to bargaining in hopes of settling the JEA contract," Cowan said.

"The (School) Board values teachers and showed that commitment by directing the district to bring back the teachers that would've been cut without the legislative increase.

"Even with the legislative increase, the Board will need to make $600,000 in other cuts, but chose to not eliminate staff."

In mediation, the district offered movement up the salary schedule and increases in insurance and additional benefits, Cowan said.

The School Board views movement up the salary schedule as a 3.6 percent annual salary increase for all but the highest-paid teachers, she said.

Some teachers have reached the maximum steps on the schedule and can't move up further.

Box said the teachers in mediation asked for smaller raises than before, and asked for less of an increase in the district's contribution to insurance premiums.

Out of the $3.1 million in additional state funding, about $1.3 million is needed to cover increases in retirement funds, liability insurance and property insurance, and utilities, Cowan said.

About $1.1 million will be spent to bring back the earlier eliminated positions, she said.

The current one-year contract provided teachers with a 2 percent increase in salary, movement up the salary schedule worth 3.6 percent to eligible teachers, and an additional $1,020 in health benefits per teacher per year, as well as additional planning time, and more funds for classroom materials.

The district will be negotiating with unions for support staff and administrators in the next two weeks, Cowan said.

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