No deal reached in district contract negotiations

Negotiations between school district and associations have snagged on rising cost of health care.

The school district and two education associations met Tuesday night and deliberated over a set of district proposals, but failed to resolve the ongoing contract dispute.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District presented the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association two proposals that would raise health insurance deductibles, change some benefits and lower premiums.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President David Brighton said the associations are concerned about the increase to the deductible and out-of-pocket maximums in the district’s plans. He said the proposed plans would still be unaffordable to too many of the associations’ members.

“We’re concerned that you can’t access health care if you can’t afford the deductibles,” Brighton said. “The reduction in premium is pretty minimal for anyone who is on our high-deductible plan now, for about half of our employees.”

Since 2017, the district has provided employees with two options for health care benefits, which include a high-deductible plan and a traditional plan. Employees pay 10% of the costs for the high-deductible plan, and 15% of the costs for the traditional plan.

During Tuesday night’s negotiations, the associations also offered a proposal to the school district. Brighton said the associations hope to meet with again with the district later this week, potentially on Saturday.

Brighton said he thought the district made a step in the right direction.

“I think it was a small step, but I recognize that as progress, and hopefully we can come to an agreement,” Brighton said.

Brighton said he was happy to see so many people attend the bargaining event, which was around 100 people early on in the evening.

“Many people were engaged and the message was pretty clear to me that the district’s offer is not affordable,” Brighton said. “They (employees) can’t continue to be at risk. We don’t want our employees to be bankrupted with one medical emergency.”

Anne McCabe, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, said she would like to see the community more engaged in the labor discussion.

“I would like for our community to take a look at what’s been going on and become aware of what’s going on with the teachers and the positive impact our schools have in our community and the value that it brings to our community,” McCabe said.

For over a year, contract negotiations between the borough school district and the associations have snagged on the rising cost of health care. Peninsula educators and staff voted May 22 to strike, with more than 75% of certified staff voting “yes” on a walkout. The associations planned to choose a strategic time to start the strike, if an agreement can’t be made.

In the event of a strike, every school in the district will be closed, including Connections Homeschool, charter and alternative schools and distance delivery programs. District employees cannot be fired for participating in a legal strike.

Associations are required to notify the superintendent 72 hours in advance. The superintendent will notify staff, parents, community partners, contractors and others of the strike’s start date.