Our View: Teachers, district strike fair deal

August 24, 2013 

It wasn't all sweetness and light -- this was collective bargaining, after all -- but Anchorage teachers and the school district apparently played straight hands with each other in reaching a three-year tentative agreement.

That's good news, especially at the beginning of the school year and especially for those Alaskans who can remember much rougher teacher-district relations in years past.

Now it's up to the district's 3,500 teachers, who are voting on whether to ratify the deal. We should know this week. If they vote yes, then the School Board has to agree.

No one wants to be too presumptuous, but Anchorage Education Association president Andy Holleman said he expects teachers will ratify. Todd Hess, human resources director for the district, said he's optimistic that teachers and board will agree.

From here it looks like they should. Both sides gave something. Teachers get 1 percent raises in each of the first three years. That's not enough to match inflation. But to make up some of that ground, they will also receive payments of $1,500 extra in the first and third years. Unlike the raises, those payments won't raise the base salaries, but will shore up income. Holleman said teachers will average 3 percent raises with the extra payments.

Hess said the district gains changes in the way health insurance is managed. During this school year, current terms will apply. Next year, only part-time teachers working the equivalent of three-quarters of full time hours will qualify for health benefits.

In the third year, the district will set aside money for its share of health benefits for only those teachers who actually sign up for the benefits. The current contract calls for the district to set aside money for all teachers who qualify, even those who don't use the benefits. The excess then goes to reduce the teachers' share of health insurance. In year three, that break ends.

Hess also said the district gained some administrative and housekeeping concessions which should be modest money savers.

Holleman said he would have preferred 2 percent yearly raises, but that the deal won is "not stagnant."

"Overall, I have to admit it's a pretty good place to be."

And while he said there was conflict across the table at times, the district "really did bargain in good faith." Hess said the same about the AEA.

"I believe it's fair," Hess said. "Both sides worked hard."

Good teachers are worth every cent and then some. But this looks a like a contract both sides can live with and live on. And that is a good place to be as another school year begins.

BOTTOM LINE: Teachers, district come up with reasonable contract.

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