ASD, teachers union reach tentative deal on 3-year contract

mtheriault@adn.comAugust 14, 2013 

— The Anchorage School District and the teachers' union that represents 3,500 city educators have reached a tentative contract agreement, the groups announced Wednesday.

The contract gives a 1 percent raise in each of its three years and a half day of additional personal leave, among other benefits. It also reduces the number of part-time teachers getting district-paid health care.

Nothing is official yet: The Anchorage School Board and the teachers themselves must ratify the new contract before it takes effect.

The deal doesn't offer all that the union wanted, but in a time of continued budget shortfalls it isn't bad, said Andy Holleman, the head of the Anchorage Education Association.

"It's meaningful but not extravagant," he said.

In addition to the annual raises, the contract includes a $1,500 bonus in its first and third years. That's a way to bump salaries on a one-time basis without increasing base rates, That's a move that is more palatable to the district, Holleman said, because it lowers the impact of future raises.

The current salary scale for an Anchorage teacher starts out at $47,449 for someone with a bachelor's degree and no experience and tops out at $87,336 for an educator with 20 years teaching experience and a doctorate, according to the district.

The 1 percent pay increase isn't enough to keep pace with inflation, Holleman said.

"In a more perfect world we'd be asking for a cost-of-living increase on the salary scale," he said.

It's not a perfect world. The School District gets most of its money from the state, and with no promise of more money from the Legislature and rising costs, the district has faced chronic budget shortfalls. It has responded by shaving hundreds of non-classroom positions in recent years, mostly by not filling jobs left empty by retirements.

The small raises won't restore positions that the district has cut, Holleman said. To keep the best teachers the district needs to make Anchorage schools an attractive place to work, which means offering at least a modest salary increase, Holleman said.

"If you let things go flat you begin to get attrition and you tend to get it out of your best people."

The terms offer salaries comparable to other Alaska districts, said Todd Hess, the district's human resources head. The district is still trying to fill 40 positions, mostly in special education, for this school year.

Another big change is that the district will no longer offer health insurance to part-timers working less than three-fourths of a full-time schedule. People working half-time used to be able to get health insurance.

That move is necessary to rein in health care costs that increased 8 percent in the last year, said Tam Agosti-Gisler, president of the Anchorage School Board.

The district will end up paying more in salary and bonuses, said Hess, though exactly how much hasn't been worked out yet. But it will save money on health insurance, he said.

Teachers will also get an additional 30 minutes per week of "professional development" time. What that means depends on whom you ask.

Professional development time imposes a cap on the amount of time past the normal school day that principals can use to call meetings or hold other required training, Holleman said. It might also be used for teacher-led enrichment such as "professional learning groups," said Agosti-Gisler.

Teachers will vote whether to ratify the contract from Aug. 24 to 26. If they approve it, the Anchorage School Board will vote at its Sept. 9 meeting.

"I can guarantee we'll have a robust public discussion on this," Agosti-Gisler said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

Contract highlights

• One percent salary increase for each of the next three years

• $1,500 bonus in first and third years

• Teachers working less than three-fourths of a full-time schedule won't be eligible for health insurance

• Personal leave increased from 2.5 to 3 days a year

• An additional 30 minutes per week dedicated to professional development

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