Teachers’ contract one step from finalized

It wasn’t an overwhelming majority, but there were enough votes Thursday to ratify a tentative contract between the Juneau Education Association and the Juneau School District, almost one year after negotiations began.

Union members reviewed the proposal for one week before giving the final OK at their ratification meeting. This contract could offer teachers a 2 percent salary increase; all that remains now is a final stamp of approval by the Juneau Board of Education at the Nov. 10 regular meeting.

“Unfortunately it’s not a multi-year contract,” JEA President Dirk Miller said. “So pretty soon we’re going to have to turn around and start again. The good news is the interest-based bargaining (IBB) created a whole new attitude in contract talks. It wasn’t ‘us versus them,’ it was more a team effort.”

Miller called this new contract “good for students,” adding the real take-away is all the benefits and securities it creates for children, not the salary increase.

The new contract could draw in more applicants for critical district roles, such as speech therapists and school psychologists, by allowing years of clinical experience to be included in the starting pay calculation.

Past contracts only included experience with school-aged children within a school district. Miller said as it stands now, it’s difficult to schedule time with the limited staff on hand.

Kristin Bartlett, chief of staff for JSD, said the district currently employees nine specialists, a number that is dictated by student need.

New contract language also solidifies a policy for handling health hazards at school sites. JSD Human Resources Director Ted VanBronkhorst said a general district plan existed prior to the contract, but the new language requires written protocols for all employees in district buildings when handling internal rapid responses.

A new stipulation in the contract would already create a Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Control Plan, which includes free annual trainings and vaccinations for employees.

Other changes to the contract could allow teachers to more easily transfer within the district. They could also receive, for the first time, compensation for planning sessions and meetings geared toward certain special needs students.

If the school board approves the contract Nov. 10, there will only be a 60-day resting period before JEA is supposed to give notice for a new contract negotiation period. The only thing that could improve the process the next time around, Miller said, is if lawmakers approve a budget in a timely manner. In 2015, the Legislature failed to reach a budget agreement during the regular session and reconvened in Ancorage during a special session before securing the votes needed to pass a spending budget.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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