Teachers union not endorsing candidate

Chapter remains neutral in state's gubernatorial race

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska chapter of the National Education Association has decided against endorsing any candidate in the governor's race.

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The union made the decision after interviews Saturday with the three major candidates, Democrat Tony Knowles, Republican Sarah Palin and independent Andrew Halcro. The union represents more than 13,000 teachers, librarians, custodians and other school workers across the state.

Officials deemed the Knowles, Palin and Halcro all satisfactory after the three candidates addressed a crowded meeting of the union's political action committee. Instead of supporting one candidate, the union decided it would push its education platform in the coming campaign.

NEA-Alaska president Bill Bjork said the three seemed well versed in topics including school funding, smaller class sizes and a better retirement system. Also, their answers to union questions weren't that different.

All three wrote in a questionnaire, for example, that public employees should get 66 percent to 75 percent of their salary when they retire. Such benefits are a big issue to the union this year because of a recent change in the state's retirement system - from pension plans to accounts that are similar to 401(k) plans.

Knowles said he would return to the old, defined-benefits system, and conduct an independent analysis to see if any modification need to be made to stave off shortfalls.

Halcro said he would support returning to a defined-benefits plan as a way to entice better teachers to work in Alaska.

Palin said both the old retirement system and a 401(k)-type retirement system have their benefits, and should be analyzed to determine if a better approach could combine the two.

Union policy dictates that a candidate is not endorsed unless he or she convinced nearly 700 union members from across the state to pledge to help in the candidate's campaign.

None of the three received enough union member support. Bjork said a motion to suspend the rules and endorse Knowles - who collected the most signatures - failed to get the necessary three-quarters vote.

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