Teachers make pitch to School Board

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Juneau teachers, seeking a new contract, took their case directly to the School Board on Tuesday, saying there should be enough money in the budget to give them raises and more help with health insurance costs.

Teachers also said preparation time for elementary school teachers could be increased with little expense to the district.

"Our hope tonight is just to present our side of things, and show you what we're asking for is reasonable and doable," said Ben Kriegmont, president of the Juneau Education Association, the roughly 350-member union for teachers, counselors, librarians and some types of therapists.

Pay, insurance costs and prep time are the issues that have stalled negotiations since the summer and brought the teachers and the district to nonbinding arbitration. The teachers' contract expired in June. An arbitrator may render a decision by early December, but the parties are free to return to the negotiating table before then. Teachers have authorized the union to ask them to go on strike, if necessary.

School district officials and union members couldn't recall a previous instance of the union asking the School Board for a public work session to give its side of a negotiating dispute. But the seven-person School Board has four new members since the Oct. 7 election.

School Board President Mary Becker said the work session was a chance for the union to present information. Board members' questions would be limited to asking for clarification, she said.

"This is not a bargaining time. I think the new board members were particularly interested in your presentation, Becker said.

Kriegmont said he didnt expect the board to agree to the unions request for a work session.

"I hope it's an indication of what will be a much more congenial and cooperative relationship with the School Board," he told the board.

The union has asked for a contractual increase in the current 150 minutes a week of elementary teachers' preparation time because teachers must help students meet the requirements of new curricula and tests, Kriegmont said.

Teacher Molly Box said three schools already have added more prep time than the contract requires by using "creative scheduling." She said hiring 1 1/2 more technology teachers districtwide to be with students during the teachers' prep time would be enough to create more prep time.

Schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan and other administrators attended the work session but didnt speak. The meeting was intended to let the union talk to the board.

But in an interview afterward, Cowan said the teachers have asked for 250 minutes a week of prep time, and the district has offered 175 minutes. She said 250 minutes was too much time for classroom teachers to be away from their students.

The union also made the case for a 2 percent increase in the rates of pay on the salary schedule. Eligible teachers move up through the schedule, gaining more money for added years of experience or more college credits. The school district advanced teachers on the schedule this year, although a contract hasn't been negotiated. But it has balked at 2 percent raises on top of that.

Teacher Alan Degener replacing retiring teachers with lower-paid, less-experienced teachers should cover the cost of moving teachers up the salary schedule, so it doesn't require added money to do that.

Degener said the school district offered teachers between $600,000 and $650,000 in what the union calls "new money" this school year. That should go toward raises totaling about $360,000 and a larger contribution, totaling $263,000, to health insurance premiums, he said.

Cowan said in an interview that the district's monetary proposal included the cost of moving teachers up the salary schedule, as well as some money that could go toward insurance premiums or raises, depending on what the union wanted. That amount of money was within a balanced budget, she said.

"The other thing we were operating on with the board is the parity between (bargaining) units," Cowan said. "Since we didnt give one unit salary increases, we didnt give the other salary increases."

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

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