The Anchorage School District and the teachers' union announced the start of negotiations for a new teacher contract Wednesday, against the backdrop of a $25 million shortfall to maintain current services in the 2013-2014 school budget.
School Board president Jeannie Mackie and union president Andy Holleman said their bargaining teams would exchange initial offers Wednesday afternoon. Later this week, the offers will be published on the web sites for the district and the Anchorage Education Association, Mackie and Holleman said in a briefing at district headquarters.
The AEA represents about 3,500 teachers, counselors, librarians and school nurses.
The union's existing contract expires June 30. It was adopted in 2010, and gave each full-time teacher an $1,800 salary increase the first year, a 2 percent raise the second year and a 3 percent increase the third year.
The district gets the majority of its money from the state, and is expecting flat funding from the Legislature this year. With expenses continuing to rise, the district is preparing a budget for the next school year that calls for eliminating 215 positions to save money, including 100 that were vacated earlier this school year.
"We all have an understanding that we have a real and substantial financial situation," Mackie said.
Holleman noted that the state has enough money to increase the amount given to school districts if it decided to.
"The state is making a choice to flat-fund" education, he said. "That's something that could still change."
The average teacher salary, not counting benefits, is about $67,000, said Eric Tollefson, former executive director of human resources for the district. Tollefson is managing the negotiations for the district.
Neither Mackie nor Holleman would provide any specific information about contract proposals.
The last time Anchorage teachers went on strike was 1994, officials said.
In 2007, the union came close to striking, but the two sides were able to come to an agreement before that happened. The big issues, Holleman said, were salaries and designated planning time for elementary school teachers.
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By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA