Mat-Su School District, teachers' unions at contract negotiation impasse
The Matanuska-Susitna School District (MSSD) and two teachers’ unions are at an impasse in contract negotiations.
The Classified Employees’ Association (CEA) and the Matanuska-Susitna Education Association (MSEA) have been at the bargaining table with the district since February.
They’re negotiating for a two-year contract that would include the current 2017-2018 school years as well as the 2018-2019 year.
“We realize money has been tight and we've been willing to make concessions but we've had no movement from the district whatsoever,” MSEA President Tim Walters said.
CEA has about 560 members; MSEA represents 1,250. While negotiations continue, they’re working under last year’s contract.
“Everyone in the world has a mortgage to pay and kids to raise, so it's always on your mind,” said Swanson Elementary kindergarten teacher Joshua Clayton.
Clayton said he doesn’t let the uncertainty impact his time with his students, though.
“When you're here at work you're not thinking about it,” he said.
Walters said the MSSD is asking teachers to take a 1.7 percent pay cut by having them work three fewer days. MSSD’s attorney Saul Friedman said their rate of pay would be the same, but the district wants to cut the year down from 185 to 182 days.
“They look at it as less income for them, but it preserves positions,” Friedman said.
Friedman said the 1.5 percent raise teachers are asking for isn’t feasible with the current economic climate. MSSD had to cut $8.4 million from its budget last year.
He said the union teachers salaries and benefits make up 75 percent of the budget costs, so the money needs to be made up somewhere.
“There's very little money to reduce the budget of this district without going into the labor ranks, the staff, the hours, the number of people. And that's what the district is trying to avoid, having to do that in any greater depth than it already has for next school year,” Friedman explained.
Walters said the district also wants teachers to carve out $2,100 from their health insurance benefits and that’s too much to ask.
“We have teachers at the bottom of the pay scale earning 46,7000 a year and for those folks to take a pay cut -- some of those folks already have to work a second job just to make ends meet -- asking them to take a pay cut and pay an extra [$2,100] in insurance is really unfathomable for us.”
Friedman said MSSD wants to find ways to cut costs and asked the unions for information from the Public Education Health Trust, which provides the unions’ insurance.
Friedman said the unions denied that request, so he’s filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, demanding the information.
“That refusal has prevented bargaining from going forward in the area of health insurance,” Friedman said, noting the district pays about $20,000 per employee, per year for health benefits.
The district is also dealing with a shortage of students. Their budget was based on a projected 19,100 kids. While enrollment grew, it still fell short of about 200 students -- which also means fewer state dollars.
“The Board has to look at the needs of the entire educational community, all of the people who are impacted, so bargaining seeks to find the compromise,” Friedman said.
Clayton said having a contract will give teachers some stability in the workplace.
“When you don't know what you're getting year-to-year, it's a tough thing to do. Until we have forward funding for schools, there won't be any piece of mind,” he said.
Because they’re at an impasse, the district and unions will bring in a federal mediator to try to reach an agreement. That likely won’t happen before the end of the year because of the upcoming holidays.
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