Teachers OK new contract

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

Juneau's public school teachers reluctantly approved a proposed two-year contract Wednesday evening.

The vote to ratify the tentative agreement was not overwhelming, said Juneau Education Association President Clay Good. The union doesn't disclose what percentages of members vote for and against contracts.

About 85 percent of the nearly 350 members showed up at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium to listen to testimony and vote. Besides teachers, the union represents about 37 counselors, psychologists, librarians, and occupational, physical and speech therapists.

"I think we probably could have done better, but it's time to get on," said middle school teacher Angela Lunda afterward.

The Juneau School Board plans to vote on the tentative agreement at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"I definitely expect the School Board to ratify it," said Juneau School Board President Mary Becker.

But one School Board member, Alan Schorr, has spoken against it publicly. Schorr wrote in an essay in the Empire on Wednesday that the extra money the contract would cost would be better spent on unmet needs such as more middle school counselors and English specialists for struggling students.

Teachers were hoping to make up for what they considered lost ground after six years of stagnant rates on the salary schedule and some years in which they didn't move up the schedule, or moved up only half-way through the year.

"A lot of folks were hoping for reparations in this contract," Good said after the vote.

In the first year teachers will be paid at least 4.5 percent more than they made last school year. The average increase is 5.7 percent, the union has said.

The contract raises the rates in the salary schedule at the top and the bottom, but lowers them in the middle. It allows teachers to move on the schedule, which rewards experience and college credits, if they haven't reached the maximum level, or step.

The strategy behind the new schedule, which the union proposed, is to make it less expensive for the school district to agree to movement on the schedule, so that any money on the table in negotiations would go toward increases in the rates or benefits.

About a quarter of the teachers are at maximum pay and don't benefit from movement on the schedule.

In the second year, the contract raises the schedule's rates by 1 percent and moves eligible teachers up a step for experience or across to a higher-paying column for added college credits. The second year generally increases teachers' pay by 4 percent.

Starting pay would go from $31,418 last school year to $33,258 this year and $33,591 next year. The top pay would increase from $61,268 last year to $64,053 this year and $64,694 next year.

The proposed contract also reduces teachers' work days from 183 to 182, and it removes wording that set aside two days a year for teachers to collaborate with each other and prepare for parent conferences.

The contract also increases the school district's contribution to teachers' health insurance premiums, although the teachers' own contributions also will go up.

Altogether, the contract would cost the school district an additional $726,000 in salaries and $140,000 in health insurance premiums in the first year, and $600,000 more in salaries the second year, district officials have said.

The district's operating budget is about $38 million this year.

As teachers left the auditorium Wednesday, they didn't want to say how they voted. But some did say they were concerned about aspects of the contract.

"There's things I like about it and things I hate about it," said elementary school teacher Dawn Pisel-Davis.

She regretted that the contract drops the two days for teachers to collaborate and that it didn't contain provisions to increase safety in the schools.

The proposed contract sets up school committees to discuss safety issues. But the union wanted the right to know about students who are identified as violent and the right to redress concerns about the condition of facilities.

Some teachers were concerned because their earnings over time would be less than under the old schedule, or because the new increases weren't much more than under the old schedule. And some didn't like the fact that the new schedule gives pay increases of varying amounts among teachers.

"Over the long term there's a benefit for everyone, but it's less palatable in the short term for some," said Montessori teacher Chris Trostel.

Good, the Juneau union's president, said the National Education Association for Alaska and for Juneau would work toward convincing the Legislature to increase funding for the schools.

"We don't want to be fighting the district all the time and wrestling with the district over crumbs," Good said.

The Legislature raised state funding this school year by $14 million. Schorr, in his newspaper essay, said the new contract would absorb all of Juneau's added funds and more.

*****

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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