Is there enough trust? Negotiators holding breath on tentative teacher contract
On Wednesday evening, the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Education Association announced they had come to an agreement on a new tentative three-year teacher contract. On Friday morning, both sides announced details of the contract at a joint press conference.
"It happened really fast," AEA President Tom Klaameyer said. "We had given up the ghost late at night and started looking at arbitrators."
Mediators from Seattle called both sides early in the morning last Wednesday and decided there was enough progress to keep working on a new contract.
This past Wednesday, the mediators were back on Anchorage to try and finalize the deal and hit pay dirt.
"Both sides were sitting on hard noes," Klaameyer said. "Neither side wanted to budge on middle school issues. We said if you can fix it, good luck. Everything else we could work on."
Rather than getting a solution that neither side was going to get, mediators help create a process for a solution. The solution was to go ahead with the rest of the contract and trust in one another that the middle school issues will continue to be worked on after the contract is signed.
"If this fails, it'll be because of the middle school stuff," Klaameyer said. "The difficulty of this is the recommendations of the committee go to the superintendent and the school board and if they ignore it and then our members will be furious. This is a huge leap of faith to ask them to ratify it now but trust that it will be worked through. It's going to be hard to ask them to take that leap of faith when they don't trust. The school district is going to have to earn that trust back."
ASD feels the school board has done just that. At least set in motion an olive branch.
"The school board, they went way beyond on a monetary amount," ASD chief academic officer Mike Graham said. "They really wanted this to happen for the teachers, for the district, for the community. If it doesn't pass that'll be really, really difficult."
They include Academic Freedom changes addressing educators’ ability to create appropriate learning environments based on students’ needs, including additional physical activity. New language addressing increased collaboration with educators for Instructional Program Input. Special Education area changes addressing communication, safety needs, meetings, training and time for administrative responsibilities. Salary Increases and health benefits.
"I think what the mediators really did was help us keep on what the issue really is and to really hear what the other side was saying," Graham said. "That continually brought us closer and closer together to where we realized there was a possibility we were going to get this together when people going in just weren't sure."
Klaameyer and his staff will now meet with educators and discuss the contract. Educators will vote electronically on the contract Dec. 3–5 and if the contract gains enough votes to ratify it, it will be presented to the school board at the Dec. 17 meeting.
"I mean it's not everything we asked for in our initial proposal," Klaameyer said. "But I think in terms of things we were really wanting to do to improve education and provide voice for our members, we're very happy with it."
Klaameyer and the school district has been down this path before, just last year, almost to the day, a one year deal was reached but denied by the teachers. It wasn't resolved until this past February and expired on June 30.
"I'm still holding my breath," Klaameyer said. "We still have two hurdles to overcome but we are confident we can do that in terms of a ratification vote and approval by the school board."
If ratified by the teachers, the fastest the new three-year contract could be approved by the school board is Jan. 7. The contract would be presented to the school board on Dec. 17 as a non-action item, meaning it's not up for a vote.
Because of the holidays, the next school board meeting isn't until Jan. 7. That's when it could be on the agenda as an action item and approved by the school board. That leaves a lot of time where anything can happen.
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