Members of the Kenai boys soccer team dump water on their head coach, Shane Lopez, in celebration of their win over Juneau on Saturday, May 25, 2019 to claim the Division II state soccer championship title. The game was played at Service High School in Anchorage, Alaska. (Homer News file photo)

Members of the Kenai boys soccer team dump water on their head coach, Shane Lopez, in celebration of their win over Juneau on Saturday, May 25, 2019 to claim the Division II state soccer championship title. The game was played at Service High School in Anchorage, Alaska. (Homer News file photo)

Prep sports programs feel effects of new teacher’s contract

The new teachers contract agreed to by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District last month touched many aspects on the peninsula, including sports programs and coaching hires.

The deal that was written up in the early morning hours of Sept. 17 allows support staff — meaning nonteaching related positions — to take on coaching jobs, after years of being blocked from those positions due to policy rules. The contract runs to June 2021.

The change has been well received as a positive step that should only help student athletes in the long run.

“It’s great,” said David Brighton, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. “I’m really happy we were able to get that. The students benefit from having coaches they’re familiar with, coaches that work at the school.”

Teachers and athletic directors are also hailing the positive change that is expected to open up an entirely new pool of coaching candidates, ones that Homer athletic director Chris Perk said will improve sports programs across the peninsula.

“It’s really exciting because I think it really opens up another pool of adults that are able to motivate and inspire our athletes,” Perk said. “Most of them work at the school and have a good knowledge of the system.”

Brighton said the original deal that dates back nearly 15 years — Perk said it came together around 2005 — was not a set-in-stone rule but rather a policy the school district had, and the recent contract negotiations officially set the rule in place allowing classified employees to accept coaching jobs.

“I’m glad we have the support staff folks to step in (for those jobs),” Brighton said. “It’s been hard to find coaches in some places on some years to fill the positions, and now we have a broader pool.”

Support staff jobs typically include positions such as custodians, pool directors, secretaries, bookkeepers and teacher aides. Those positions are considered classified because they do not require a teaching certificate, and thus they are paid hourly wages instead of salaries.

With the threat of overtime pay used during coaching hours threatening to tip the school district budget, Brighton said it was time to nix that policy.

Now, support staff that are hired on as coaches will receive a stipend like the certified staff.

“It’s been a priority for several years,” said Brighton. “We made it a priority during the bargain period so that the stipend position doesn’t allow for overtime.”

Typically what will happen is a position that opens up is offered first to school employees before being posted to the general public.

Perk said Homer lost three coaches when the original deal went into effect, including two girls basketball coaches and a soccer coach, but said the Mariners have suddenly found themselves looking at a new cast of qualified candidates that really connect to student athletes, which in the long term will pay huge dividends.

Kenai Central athletic director Jesse Settlemyer said the KCHS administration hasn’t yet hired any support staff for coaching positions, but he expects the school will certainly fill a few areas in the coming months.

“It’s exciting, it’s good because it gives us more qualified people to open up the pool of coaches,” Settlemyer said. “There’s been a whole group of qualified coaches that we haven’t been able to access in 10-plus years. Now it’s available to us again.

“It’s better for the school, better for the teachers and better for the athletes.”

Reach Joey Klecka at jklecka@peninsulaclarion.com.

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