Juneau schools Superintendent Gary Bader is optimistic after a day of negotiating with the teachers' union.
The Juneau School District resumed contract negotiations with the Juneau Education Association on Wednesday.
"We began at 9 o'clock yesterday morning and concluded about 7 o'clock last night," Bader said this morning. "We did not reach a tentative agreement, but I think it's fair to say we made substantive progress."
The two sides declared an impasse over pay and benefits in April. A federal mediation in May failed to produce a contract. The teachers' current contract ended June 30, but its terms are in effect.
Juneau's roughly 350 teachers now make $31,418 to $61,268 a year, depending on experience and college credits. The school district said the average salary is about $47,300.
The rates on the teachers' salary schedule haven't gone up since fall 1994, when the rates were increased by 2.9 percent. Teachers have said that because of inflation a teacher at the bottom of the schedule, for example, has lost $4,300 in spending power compared with such a teacher in 1994.
In contrast, city and state employees in Juneau often have received increases in their salary schedules since 1995. And many such employees also move up the schedule annually in what are called merit raises.
The other way for teachers to get more money is to move up the salary schedule, which rewards experience and college credits. But in Juneau that movement is negotiated as part of the contract.
Since 1995, Juneau teachers haven't always moved up the salary schedule. In three years they moved up the schedule only half-way through the year, the teachers' union has said.
In 1996, teachers accepted a lower pay scale for new hires. The current contract, negotiated two years ago, merged all teachers onto the lower scale. Although current teachers didn't take a pay cut, the more experienced teachers now face smaller gains when they move up the reduced-rate schedule.
Meanwhile, teachers who have reached the maximum salary won't get a raise unless the rates on the schedule go up. About a quarter of Juneau's teachers have reached the maximum pay, said Human Resources Director Patti Carlson.
And more than another quarter of the teachers have reached the maximum pay within their level of college education. They will not see raises unless they acquire more college credits and the contract allows movement on the schedule.
Teachers told the School Board in May that the lack of raises is demoralizing and would lead to more teachers leaving the school district at a time when it is getting harder to hire new teachers.
Bader said the number of resignations and retirements is up over last year, but not out of line with other years. About six openings remain to be filled, partly because some specialists are hard to find and partly because some resignations were recent, Carlson said.
Bader said the parties haven't set a date to negotiate again.
Representatives of the teachers' union couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.