Members of the Anchorage teachers union will vote next month on a proposed deal with the Anchorage School District that would extend their current three-year contract by one year and include 1 percent raises, according to the Anchorage Education Association.
If the union approves the contract extension, it would postpone bargaining for a year. Normally, the union would start formally bargaining in January, which is when lawmakers will address the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
"We worry that our bargaining would get caught up in the discussion in Juneau," Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association, said in an interview Friday.
Holleman sent an email to union members Thursday informing them of the contract extension agreement, which he said grew out of conversations between Anchorage School District and union officials.
Holleman wrote that the conversation centered on a "simple agreement that could be completed quickly." The agreement came about suddenly at the end of last week, he wrote.
"This would offer some security for members as the legislative session opens," he wrote. "We both avoid the most difficult aspect of bargaining precisely when budgets across the state are taking cuts."
If the union approves the contract extension, the current contract would change in four ways, Holleman wrote. Union members would get 1 percent raises next school year and one-time $1,000 bonuses in October 2016. The School District's contribution to health care premiums would increase by $30 a month to $1,580. The expiration date on the contract would move back a year, to June 30, 2017, he wrote.
Holleman said extending the contract would have advantages and disadvantages for the Anchorage union's roughly 3,400 educators, who range from teachers to school nurses and counselors.
While it would provide educators with some stability, it would put discussions about changing contractual language on hold. That means the effort to get more planning time for union members or to get back a full day at the end of each quarter for grading would have to wait, Holleman said.
"While that doesn't necessarily involve money and a paycheck for members, it does cost the district money," Holleman said.
Holleman said he supports the agreement, though he'd prefer to see the raises keep pace with inflation. He said the agreement is significant enough that members must vote on it.
"In terms of the well-being of the profession, I think it's on the weak side, but I think it's the best that the Anchorage School District can do right now," Holleman said. "I think it's the best that the state can do right now."
According to the current contract, teachers starting out in the School District make $48,402 a year if they have a bachelor's degree and no previous experience. The pay scale tops out at $89,091 for teachers with 20 years of experience and a doctorate.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff said he thinks the contract extension agreement would allow the district to focus on attracting and retraining educators, as well as focus on students in the classroom.
The agreement also provides the School District's current educators with a sense of certainty, he said.
"We don't have to have people feeling anxious about what is unknown," Graff said. He described the agreement as "fair and very fiscally responsible."
KTOO reported that Juneau's teachers union voted Thursday to approve a one-year tentative contract that included a 2 percent pay increase, a more competitive salary for starting specialists and compensation for extra meeting hours for some teachers.
Holleman said the Anchorage union would schedule four meetings for members over the next month to discuss the contract extension proposal. It will then take a vote on the extension, opening an online ballot for several days before Thanksgiving break.
If a majority of members vote to approve the agreement, the vote will go to the Anchorage School Board. If it doesn't approve the agreement, bargaining will start this winter, Holleman said.