School district – JEA to resume bargaining

Strike stickers have been appearing in some Juneau schools.

Juneau teachers and the school district go back to the bargaining table on Monday (Nov. 18).

Teachers are working on a one-year contract that expired in June, but remains in effect until a new agreement is reached.

Teachers have come before the school board at every meeting this fall — with this message:

“Our district has not entered negotiations in good faith,” said Mendenhall River 5th grade teacher Adam Berkey.

Impasse, failed mediation, arbitration;  all mark the history of contract negotiations over the last couple of years between the Juneau School District and Juneau Education Association.

Now the two sides await an arbitrator’s opinion.  It’s only advisory.

They met with an arbitrator in mid-October.  There have been no negotiations since.

The school board allows public comments at the start of every meeting and that time has become the teachers’ platform this fall.

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School teacher Kathleen Portfield was the first to address the board on Tuesday.

“Please direct the superintendent to come back to the table with no less than the current increase in the cost of living for 2013, currently 2.7 percent for the first six months.”

JEA vice president Dirk Miller has more than 24 years in the district as a parent and physical education teacher.  He said he doesn’t remember a time when there’s been “such a disconnect” between the district and its staff.

He explained why teachers quickly rejected the district’s last offer in early October.

Almost a year (it) seems like we’ve been stonewalled. The district really didn’t offer us anything. Zero in salary increases; even some safety measures didn’t get addressed. So this year we come back to the table and the best you have to offer is cutting health insurance then rewarding a very few members with a one-time bonus.  That’s not going to heal this division,” Miller said.

The Juneau Board of Education meets monthly in JDHS Library. Most of the public comments this fall are coming from teachers, frustrated with the lack of contract.

The teachers have not minced words.  At each monthly board meeting they’ve described low morale, feeling devalued, even anger toward the administration.

Sixteen-year high school teacher Tonja Moser acknowledged that negotiations seldom go well, but said this year is the worst.

You haven’t bargained in good faith.  Ten times to the table without a single penny, unless it was a divisive offer, is not a respectful thing to do to us,” she said.           

The district blames flat funding from the Legislature, a problem for schools across Alaska.

Juneau superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said he hopes Monday’s negotiating session will get JEA and the administration closer to a solution, but every dollar requires a tradeoff.

Reality is that our resources are what our resources are.  And to every additional dollar we spend on the salary side, for whatever employee group, not just teachers, we have to balance that with the interests of the programs we offer to kids,” he said.     

In the meantime, briefs are due to the arbitrator next week. The advisory opinion is expected before the end of the year.

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