Anchorage teachers reject proposed 1-year contract

Anchorage teachers have rejected the one-year contract that school district and union officials tentatively agreed on in mid-November.

The contract proposal followed nearly two years of negotiations.

Tom Klaameyer, president of the Anchorage Education Association teachers union, announced in a statement Thursday morning that union members had voted down the proposed contract, which included some of the items the union had asked for, but not everything.

"Our members have spoken and we will honor the outcome of this vote to go back to the table and seek a contract that will enhance our ability to educate students," Klaameyer said in the statement.

The Anchorage Education Association represents roughly 3,300 district employees, including teachers, school nurses, counselors and librarians.

The contract proposal included two more personal leave days for the union members, bringing the total to five. The district would have also contributed $65 more a month to each member's health insurance premium, under the proposal.

However, the district and teachers remain at odds over pay.

The proposed contract allowed for movement on the teachers' salary schedule, increasing their pay based on changes in experience and education. But it did not include a 3 percent overall increase to the wages in that salary schedule, which the union wanted.

Klaameyer said per union policy, he could not disclose how many members voted in favor of the proposed contract, and how many voted against it. He said he could also not release the total number of union members who voted, though he said turnout was higher this year than in the two prior contract votes in 2015 and 2013.

Based on conversations with union members, Klaameyer said, some had wanted the stability of a multi-year contract. The one-year contract proposed would have taken effect retroactively and expired at the end of June 2018.

Also, he said, members had an issue with the double-digit raises given to some district administrators this year, while teachers were denied the 3 percent salary increase they asked for.

"I think many of the teachers still don't feel supported by the district," Klaameyer said in an interview Thursday.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said in an interview earlier this year that she had to increase pay for certain leadership jobs so she could recruit and retain the right people for her team.

Plus, according to a presentation to the School Board, the salaries for those jobs — not represented by a union — had not increased over the years at the same rate as other employee groups.

Todd Hess, the district's chief human resources officer, said in an interview Thursday that when teachers moved up on the salary schedule, based on another year of experience, their salary increased by 2 to 3 percent.

Hess said the district was committed to returning to the bargaining table with the teachers union to work out a contract.

Asked about the district's reaction to the union vote, he said, "We respect the views of our teachers. We obviously are disappointed."

"We felt that through a very lengthy collective bargaining session with the union that we had provided the most generous settlement that was available to us at the time, in light of our current fiscal situation," he said.

Hess said the district had agreed to contracts with four other union groups and none include increases to their salary schedules.

"We're not making this story up," he said. "We don't have the extra money sitting out there."

Susan Malecha, a teacher at Hanshew Middle School, said she voted against the one-year contract proposal, in part, because it didn't include the 3 percent pay increase. In her 27 years of teaching, she said, "I've never seen morale among my colleagues as low as it has been this year."

"I've been around a long time and the district never has money to pay their teachers, so it's not a good excuse anymore, not when they're giving themselves a raise," she said.

At Mears Middle School, teacher Thomas Pease said he voted down the contract proposal because it "continues a pattern of salary freezes" and it didn't do enough to protect teachers' planning time.

Pease said he gets an average of about 40 minutes during each school day to grade papers and plan lessons. More and more, he said, that time is taken up by administrative meetings.

"It means taking home that much more work," he said.

Klaameyer said the teachers union last rejected a proposed contract agreement in 2006.

If the district and union cannot reach another agreement, they will bring in a third-party mediator, Klaameyer said. A teacher strike is not imminent, he said.