"It's a start," AEA team bargaining spokesperson Brian Nelson said. "We're making progress but we have a long road ahead."

The Anchorage Education Association and Anchorage School District started the first of two public negotiating sessions on Tuesday. 

"There is progress, we signed off on two items," AEA Committee Chair Corey Aist said. "The items are small but we are moving forward."

Both sides came to an understanding on time and duty stations and life insurance, items 428 and 210 in the contract. A few other items are also expected to get the thumbs up from both sides while a few more may league negotiations down the path of mediation. 

"We value our teachers, we value them tremendously and they are in a tough position because we are cutting back on class size and we are asking them to do more," School Board President Starr Marsett said. "At this point right now, I think after tonight, you may see it go to mediation."

The hang-up in negotiations is teacher salary. AEA is asking for a 3.75 percent increase to salaries in year one and 3.25 percent increases in salaries in years two and three. ASD is offering zero percent in year one, a half-percent increase in year two and a one percent increase in year three.  

"What they are asking for is $50 million over our budget,"  ASD Chief of Human Resources Todd Hess said. "We just don't have what they are asking for." 

The AEA says negotiations are more about what is happening in the schools than money. 

"I can’t speak to mediation but we have some real teacher concerns that are going on in the classroom that need to be addressed and we are trying to get them (ASD) to move in that direction and we are hopeful that will happen," Aist said. "It’s stressful, I’m not going to tell you it’s not. It's an added stress teachers don’t necessarily need and we could’ve solved this earlier, last year, it’s always something in the back of their minds as we start school."

Aist also wanted to make it clear that AEA and ASD have a good working relationship. 

"We've been working together for over 10 years," Aist said. "We've worked on what, about five contracts together? We are familiar with each other and that makes the uncomfortable more comfortable."

The final open negotiating session is on Wednesday, August 8 from 4 to 8 p.m. at ASD headquarters. 

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