Teachers' contract negotiations leave behind hard feelings

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

A long and rancorous negotiation with Juneau's teachers, begun in February and spilling over into letters in the newspaper, ended in a burst of bad feelings as the School Board approved a contract Tuesday.

Board member Alan Schorr voted against the contract, and Chuck Cohen said he wasn't satisfied but voted for it.

Meanwhile, the teachers' union asked board members to respond publicly to Schorr's opinion piece in the Sept. 5 edition of the Juneau Empire, which teachers said they considered demoralizing and disrespectful.

Schorr had said this school year's increase in state funding would be better spent on unmet needs such as more counselors and teachers than on giving teachers raises, and he called for a longer work day and year.

School Board President Mary Becker said the school district has bought new textbooks in recent years, and is hiring several teachers this fall to reduce class sizes.

"I'm not sure we have thrown away the farm by this teachers' contract," Becker told the board.

Juneau Education Association President Clay Good told the School Board on Tuesday that a public response from them would "go a long way to healing the pain (Schorr) has caused" and helping the union and school board work together for more state education funding.

School Board members didn't respond at the meeting.

Teacher Patrick Moore, his voice rising at times, told the board he has worked summer jobs to make ends meet and that some teachers qualify for low-income housing. He said teachers came close to not ratifying the contract and many aren't satisfied with it.

A contract that would attract and keep the best and most dedicated teachers is in the best interest of students, Moore said.

In the new contract, rates on the low and high ends of the new salary schedule went up, while many rates in the middle went down. But teachers were placed on the new schedule so they would get pay increases of at least 4.5 percent in the first year.

The new contract increases rates on the salary schedule by 1 percent in the second year, and allows teachers to move up the schedule for further experience and college credits. Many teachers will get a 4 percent pay increase in the second year.

The new pay scale runs from $33,258 to $64,053 in the first year, and $33,591 to $64,694 in the second year.

Cohen said teachers work hard, but said he was dissatisfied the new contract includes a pay increase "significantly above" what the district gave to other employees in recent years.

Those contracts, for support staff and administrators, generally included 3 percent pay increases.

Cohen also said it was disheartening that the Juneau Assembly, "with great lip service to education," would turn down the school district's request for additional funds and yet give city employees raises the district can't afford to match.

Cohen also faulted two Assembly members, Marc Wheeler and Jim Powell, for their June 21 letter in the Empire that urged the school board to give teachers raises, while those same members didn't vote to give additional funds to the school district.

"I found that very, very disheartening," Cohen told the board.

Wheeler, in an interview, said he wanted to give the schools more money but he didn't think he had the votes on the Assembly.

But with the added state funds, "clearly the school district had the revenue to be able to offer the teachers a raise," Wheeler said. "I think it was our responsibility to say that publicly as community leaders."

*****

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



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