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Mat-Su

Mat-Su teachers vote to approve possible strike as negotiations with school district continue

PALMER -- The union representing hundreds of teachers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District has voted to authorize a strike.

The Mat-Su Education Association announced Monday morning that 85% of eligible members voted in favor. Teachers voted last week. The results were certified by the Anchorage League of Women Voters.

The authorization doesn’t mean a strike will occur, but instead gives the union the legal authority to strike if a settlement isn’t reached with the district bargaining team, union officials say. The union must give the district 72 hours' notice prior to a strike.

The union and district bargaining teams are still in negotiations, which resumed Monday morning.

“We are definitely both trying to avoid a strike,” the association’s president, Dianne Shibe, said.

“Right now we’re just throwing ideas back and forth at each other trying to come up with something creative, but that both sides can accept,” Shibe said.

The association hoped to have a new proposal by the end of the day, she said. Though a majority of teachers are ready to strike, it is not yet clear whether they will, because that depends on whether the school board accepts the next proposal, she said.

“It’s all going to be on the school board. Are they going to be willing to accept what other offer we’re able to hammer out today?” Shibe said.

Late Monday, a district spokeswoman said in a statement, “the parties met today and are continuing discussions later this week.”

The next scheduled school board meeting is Oct. 7, and Shibe said that the union will not wait that long for an answer.

The union represents roughly 1,200 certified employees in 44 schools. Teachers in Mat-Su have been working on an expired contract for more than 18 months as negotiations on a new contract continue.

The union says its employees are paid less than Anchorage and Fairbanks counterparts, yet teach in the most crowded classrooms with the lowest teacher-student ratios in the state.

The contract negotiations started in March 2019 and are stalled on three major issues. The union wants the contract and pay increases to begin retroactively in the 2019-20 school year, while the district is instead offering a one-time bonus to make up for that time period. The parties have also proposed different yearly percentage pay increases for teachers, and the district aims to include in the contract language the ability for it to seek a new health insurance provider.

The soonest a strike could occur is next month, union officials have said.

- Zaz Hollander reported from Palmer and Emily Goodykoontz from Anchorage.

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