District, associations schedule arbitration

The next time the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators and the support staff and teacher associations meet for negotiations will be in the presence of an advisory arbitrator.

A hearing with Gary Axon, an Oregon-based arbitrator jointly selected by the three teams, is scheduled for June 1-2. On that date it will be nearly 14 months since collective bargaining began for contracts that were supposed to take effect July 1, 2015.

“Salary and other items that have a financial impact still remain to be resolved,” said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. “Unfortunately, until the increasing costs of the current health care plan are contained, KPBSD cannot adequately address these issues because increased salary schedules and increases in added duty stipends only increase the (school) district’s budget deficit, and may require further reductions in staff and programs for students.”

At the teams’ most recent meeting on Jan. 13, the sole proposed option of a high deductible health care plan with an employee opt-out was the only topic addressed. Saul Friedman, an Anchorage-based attorney, represented the school district and Matt Fischer represented the Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations.

In February 2015, the school district originally proposed keeping the current traditional health care plan and adding the option of a high deductible plan. In a counter proposal made Oct. 14, the associations proposed eliminating the traditional plan and only having the option of a high deductible plan.

Employees who chose to sign up for health care with the school district would pay a deductible until a maximum out-of-pocket is reached in the proposed high deductible plan.

The school district preferred a $1,500 cap on the per employee, per month plan costs, and the associations preferred a $1,700 cap with the school district paying for 85 percent of an employee’s medical expenses once the cap is reached.

Fischer said the contracts should address who is responsible for costs once the per employee, per month plan cap is reached; otherwise, the employees would be responsible for 100 percent.

Friedman said the school district would not realize enough savings from the association’s current official proposal, submitted on Oct. 14.

Fischer said he wants administrators to do more cost comparisons to other school districts that offer a high deductible plan. He said the school district’s current proposal isn’t guaranteed to save money, and the employees don’t want to be responsible for paying more if the school district has misjudged the effectiveness of the new plan.

Axon’s input in June is not legally binding.

He will issue a report compiled through interviews and cross-examinations of witnesses, much “like an informal court hearing,” Erkeneff said. It will include analysis of written briefs submitted by both negotiating teams supporting their positions, she said.

It is the second time in a decade that the school district has entered arbitration, Erkeneff said in a previous interview with the Peninsula Clarion.

The teams and the school district split the cost of hiring Axon, she said.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.