The Anchorage School Board unanimously approved a new three-year contract with the district's 3,500 teachers Monday night.
The contract, which teachers' union members ratified in August, includes modest salary increases for teachers paired with substantial savings in health benefits for the district, said School Board member Eric Croft before the vote.
Teachers will get 1 percent salary increases for each of the next three years paired with $1,500 bonuses in the first and third year. The district will save money on skyrocketing health care costs by cutting insurance to half-time employees and not making contributions for workers who have opted out of health coverage.
Discussion among board members Monday amounted to a love-fest for the contract.
"I think there's an awful lot in this contract that's beneficial to both sides," said board member Pat Higgins.
The district's chief financial officer, Mark Foster, said the deal went a long way in holding down rising health care costs.
"We made great progress with this contract," he said.
But not everyone was sanguine about where the new contract would leave district finances.
Anchorage resident Dan Loring, the only community member who testified in an open comment period about the contract, said he wished teachers could be paid more but that the price tag of the contract would only put the district, already beset by chronic budget shortfalls, deeper in the red.
"The only way we can afford this contract is to cut positions or cut programs for kids," Loring said. "Do we give raises to staff or do we cut programs? Do we help kids or do we help adults?"
Board member Natasha Von Imhof also said the contract, which extends until June of 2016, left some important things out.
Seniority shouldn't be the only factor in promoting teachers in rank and pay, she said. That wasn't addressed in the contract at all.
Von Imhof also said that while she would vote for the contract the district would face a very real dilemma going forward with it.
"It is going to cost $24 million over the next three years," Von Imhof said. "How are we going to pay for that if the state doesn't give us additional money?"
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