Hundreds of teaching contracts were approved Monday by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education in a move that came earlier in the year than expected and is meant to offer a sense of stability to district staff.
Union representatives and board members were among those who praised early approval of contracts during the board’s Monday night meeting, but concern remained about the long-term ability of the district to recruit and retain quality staff.
Those concerns have been present throughout the school year.
Incorporated into the bargaining agreements approved between the district and Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association last summer were one-time payments of $1,500. KPEA is the union that represents the school district’s teachers and certified staff. KPESA is the union that represents the school district’s support staff.
The board also voted in October of last year to give staff 10 extra days of sick leave in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district also relaxed requirements for substitute teachers to help fill vacant positions and tweaked early release days starting last month to give teachers more time to prepare course materials.
KPEA President Nathan Erfurth told board members Monday that early approval of contracts is a welcome change he hopes the district will continue.
“It has been a terrible stressor, especially for nontenured teachers, to not know whether or not our jobs are in place until well after hiring has gone on everywhere else in the country,” Erfurth said. “There have been years where I didn’t receive my contract until May. Granting this stability to folks this early in the year is a welcome change. I hope we can continue it.”
While Erfurth is thankful contracts could be offered so early, he said he doesn’t think the district is out of the water as far as teacher resignations are concerned.
“I’m a little nervous,” Erfurth said. “The next 30 days, as teachers weigh their options and decide whether or not to sign their contracts, will be crucial. It’s imperative that teachers hear from the administration and their school board that they are valued and needed.”
Erfurth said the district usually sees a spike in resignations after contracts come out. He fears how long the list will be at the next school board meeting. The board received resignations from 19 certified staff and three support staff Monday.
Moving ahead, Erfurth encouraged the board to engage educators on the best ways to solve some of the problems the district is facing, as well as to do everything they can to make KPBSD “as attractive as possible” for incoming educators and for educators deciding whether or not to stay.
“Please keep your ears open to the feedback that you hear from your staff and from their representatives,” Erfurth said. “Listening to your educators and acting on their advice can and will shorten the list of people resigning from KPBSD.”
KPESA President Susanna Litwiniak shared with board members stories she has heard from staff she represents who have been taking on a heavy workload over the last school year, such as custodians working 10-hour days to cover for a co-worker in the hospital and food service workers donating their sick leave to cover for co-workers out due to illness.
“I wanted to start a discussion about what actions we are going to take to ensure that no member of our KPBSD community goes home after a long day of working hard to ensure that this community thrives feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and underappreciated,” Litwiniak said.
Board of Education President Zen Kelly similarly praised the board’s early approval of contracts, but echoed the concerns raised by Erfurth and Litwiniak.
“We need to recruit people — good quality candidates — to fill the open positions we have,” Kelly said. “It’s also very important that we try to retain the people that we’ve invested in and who have worked for this district for many years and figure out a way to keep them around. So I think it’s a twofold approach and (I’m) very excited about the future of really going after both recruitment and retention.”
Meetings of the board of education are made available on the district’s media website at media.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.