The Juneau School Board ratified this school year's contract for teachers on a 5-1 vote Thursday night, giving closure to nearly a year of contentious negotiations.
Members of the Juneau Education Association - about 340 teachers, librarians, counselors, psychologists and other specialists - had threatened to strike if they didn't get a favorable contract.
The new contract will be retroactive to July 1 and end on June 30, 2004. It includes 2 percent pay increases, and the new salaries will range from $34,263 to $65,988 for 182 days of work. With the raises and increased insurance premiums, the new terms will cost the Juneau School District about $1.32 million this school year.
Board member Alan Schorr, who voted against the contract, declined to be interviewed but issued a written statement saying the cost increases were "fiscally and programmatically irresponsible."
The expense comes as the district considers cutting 40 teachers over the next two school years from the roughly 250 teachers who don't teach special education or specialized classes such as English as a second language. Those cuts are just part of a package of proposed reductions to balance a roughly $40 million operating budget.
Schorr said the implications of the new contract and larger required payments to employee retirement funds are the elimination of 25 to 50 employees, "a staggering increase in class size, and a major reduction in course offerings."
Juneau's teachers ratified the contract Dec. 4.
About two-thirds of the teachers also received an additional 3 percent in pay increases under the new contract as they moved up the salary schedule, which rewards them for added experience.
The district's contribution to teachers' monthly health insurance premiums will increase from $550 to $635 out of the total per-teacher cost of $793 a month.
About $900,000 for the new contract already was in this school year's budget. But the district will have to dip into its $926,000 general fund balance for $387,000 to cover the contract's 2-percent raises.
School Board President Mary Becker, who voted for the new contract, said it was important to agree to a contract.
"It's something we can afford this year," she said, noting that next year's budget "won't be easy."
School Board member Robert Van Slyke abstained from voting, saying that because he has two daughters who are teachers he wanted to avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Becker, who also has a daughter who is covered by the contract, said the school district has received a legal opinion that board members can vote on contracts in that circumstance. But Becker said she wouldn't force Van Slyke to vote.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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