It’s official: The roughly 3,300 members of the Anchorage Education Association teachers union have a new three-year contract.
The Anchorage School Board sealed the deal at its meeting Monday night, marking the end of months of contentious contract negotiations. The board approved the contract in a 4-2 vote, but not before expressing several concerns. Board members Dave Donley and Mark Foster voted against the contract. Board member Elisa Snelling was absent.
“I want to thank everybody for how long and hard they worked on reaching this tentative agreement,” said board member Alisha Hilde, who voted for the contract. “I do have concerns on how it’s going to affect class sizes, and that’s something we have to address as a board."
The contract takes effect retroactively to July 1, 2018 and expires June 30, 2021. Union members have already voted to approve it.
Here’s some of what the 73-page contract includes:
• Pay increases: Members of the teachers union are paid based on a combination of experience and how much college education they have. The union’s last contract expired June 30, 2018. Union members — including teachers, counselors and school nurses — kept working under its terms while negotiations for a new contract spilled into the current school year.
The salary schedule in the expired contract started at $48,886 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree. The new contract agreement adjusts the salary schedule in the current school year so union members receive an additional experience step, retroactive to July 1, 2018. That means the salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will bump up to $50,213. Teachers who have topped out of the salary schedule will get a $1,300 “in lieu of step” this school year.
The school district will calculate the retroactive salary increase for each union member and average it out over the remaining pay periods of this school year, according to Todd Hess, the district’s chief human resource officer.
In the 2019-20 school year, the base pay of the salary schedule will increase by 2 percent, followed by another 2 percent increase the next year. So in 2020-21, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will earn $52,242.
• District increases its contribution to health care costs: The district will contribute $1.9 million to the union’s health reserve account this school year to offset premium increases. Next school year, the district will increase its contribution to a union member’s health insurance premium by $50 per month, bringing it to $1,695 per member per month. There will be no change in 2020-21.
• Additions to “academic freedom” section: Union members “have a professional responsibility to meet student learning styles and differentiate instruction,” new contract language says. Members are only required to submit lesson plans if they’re on a growth or improvement plan, or if there’s a previously documented performance concern. They can provide students with additional time for physical activity “in keeping with school schedules and district expectations and state requirements.”
The new contract will cost an additional $22.6 million over its three years, the district’s chief financial officer has said.
Under the expired contract, the district spent about $345 million on salaries and benefits for members of the teachers union. The district’s total general fund budget for the current school year is about $565 million.
Negotiations for the new, three-year contract started in April and were punctuated by educator-led demonstrations and heated public comment at school board meetings.
Monday’s board meeting didnt draw a large crowd. Aisde from the district administrators at desks in the room, there were fewer than a dozen people in the audience as the board commented on the contract.
Some board members said they felt grateful for the contract, especially that it was a three-year deal. The district and union last agreed to a one-year contract, which expired June 30, 2018. Before that, the groups had agreed to a one-year contract extension for the 2016-17 school year.
Board members, however, also expressed concerns about the new contract, including with its increased price tag. The district estimated that a roughly $10.4 million budget gap would arise next school year if it maintained the same level of services.
“It’s a tough situation that we’re in because money is tight and nobody wants to make cuts in other areas, and yet it is nice to be able to reward our really dedicated, wonderful, talented, hard-working teachers with a pay raise as well as some other things,” said school board member Deena Mitchell, who voted in favor of the contract.
Donley said he didn’t believe the contract was in the best interest of the community.
“I’m very concerned that it’s going to create a significant funding problem with the district that will result in negative impacts on our classrooms by increasing class sizes,” said Donley, who voted against the contract.
The contract also failed to address a shortage of special education teachers, he said. He said it failed to fairly compensate those who must teach “combo classes” due to low enrollment in certain grades at certain schools — for instance, a class of fourth- and fifth-graders. He also believed the new contract created an unfairness with other bargaining groups in the district.
Foster, who voted against the contract, said he had concerns not only about teacher shortages in special education, but also about higher turnover and vacancy rates in higher-poverty schools. Plus, he said, there are “challenges finding a diverse group of teachers to serve our populations in the at-risk schools."
“That’s clearly a policy issue that boards around the country are addressing that we fail to do here. I’m sort of struck by the amount of talk, but not much action on the part of the board in that area," said Foster, a former chief financial officer for the district who became the newest school board member in October.
Mitchell said she also believed the school board needed to look at diversity issues and how to recruit teachers in hard-to-fill positions, including in special education.
Starr Marsett, school board president, said she supported the new contract but realized the district was facing budget constraints and that there was a need to continue looking at teacher recruitment. She said she supported increasing diversity, including on the school board.
Board member Andy Holleman voted in favor of the new contract and said he hoped it “cleared a lot of debris off the deck,” so the board could focus on addressing specific issues — including some that Donley brought up — without getting them tangled in a nearly 75-page contract document. He said the board shouldn’t wait until contract bargaining sessions to resolve issues.
“Then contract renewals won’t be quite the huge speed bump that they have been for so long because we will have ironed out some of those issues along the way,” he said.