A car drives past a Juneau Education Association sign posted next to the North Douglas Highway Thursday morning. On Tuesday members voted to accept a three-year contract agreement with Juneau School District. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A car drives past a Juneau Education Association sign posted next to the North Douglas Highway Thursday morning. On Tuesday members voted to accept a three-year contract agreement with Juneau School District. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Teachers union members narrowly OK school district contract

The school board will vote to ratify Friday afternoon.

Members of the Juneau Education Association narrowly voted to accept a three-year contract agreement with Juneau School District on Tuesday after a more than year-long collective bargaining process.

According to JEA President and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé teacher Chris Heidemann, it was an “extremely close” vote.

“Right now about half of our membership did not want to ratify this contract, while the other half did — so there’s definitely kind of a tension right now,” he told the Empire Thursday morning. “This contract was just barely good enough to pass.”

The tentative contract was originally agreed upon by negotiation teams around two weeks ago, and now the Juneau School Board is expected to vote Friday on whether to approve it.

If OK’d, the contract will immediately go into effect, meaning union members will receive a gradual pay increase over the contract period —2% the first year, 2.5% the second and 3.25% the third — along with ​​increases to the district’s monthly contributions to health premiums. Preparation time was also increased for elementary teachers.

“I think the board will fully support the agreement,” board president Deedie Sorensen told the Empire Thursday afternoon. Vice president Emil Mackey agreed, and shared similar remarks.

“It’s well within our interest to pass this,” he said.

The contract will last until June 30, 2025, and according to Heidemann, the next round of negotiations will begin in December 2024. The total cost to the district for the contract is around $5 million in total for the three years.

“I mean, there’s a sense of relief that the process is over for now — I’m relieved we will have one full school year with labor peace next year and the work of getting this agreement is likely done,” Heidemann said. “But, I mean that’s about it.”

Heidemann said despite “small win,” there’s still a bigger issue at play for Alaska’s education system beyond Juneau.

“We need to be collaborating together to provide the level of pressure necessary to get the Legislature off its butt and provide adequate funding for education,” he said. “The situation Alaska school districts are in right now comes down to the people sitting in the capitol right now who are not doing their job.”

Currently, the Alaska Senate and House majorities are both proposing a one-time $680 per-pupil boost in education funding, but with different ways of paying for it. That is about half of the proposed funding some lawmakers sought at the beginning of the session and what advocates say is needed to keep pace with inflation.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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