Teachers’ union talks ‘game day’

Wednesday could be the last time the Juneau School District and the Juneau Education Association meet to finalize a new teachers’ contract. Both parties are calling it “game day” because finances are on the line.

What those money talks concern, even in broad terms, cannot be shared with anyone not directly involved directly in the negotiations, said JEA Rights Chair Sara Hannan. Hannan said it’s a closed-door process up until the contract is released to all the members of the union.

“We’re hoping it’s the last meeting,” Hannan said of the upcoming talks on Wednesday. “We’ve dealt with everything else but the money.”

The bargaining process has dragged on for seven months, but not necessarily because of any discord.

Hannan, also a Juneau-Douglas High School teacher, said JEA and JSD are utilizing a new negotiation tactic known as interest based bargaining (IBB). It’s a dialogue-heavy method made up of a team members from both sides of the line, which means more face-to-face time.

Previously, one representative from each side would argue their respective side’s cause. Now with IBB, several members from both sides work together to solve problems as partners to create a new contract.

Also contributing to the slow-going negotiations was the Legislature’s late release of a state budget. That meant the Juneau School Board was operating in May under different scenario-based budgets, unsure how to make their next move.

When it was time to move on a budget, summer was upon them and teachers dispersed. Getting together now, Hannan said, means working around class time and after-school activities so students don’t lose time they need with teachers.

“We were seeking, as teachers always do, to avoid missing our student contact time,” Hannan said.

According to a press release by JSD, the IBB team met for the first time since summer break on Sept. 30. Because the last teachers’ contract expired June 30, employees are working under expired terms set in the previous contract. If Wednesday’s finance discussions do in fact finalize new terms, the Juneau School Board, with possibly three newly elected members, will have to approve it during an Oct. 20 meeting.

JSD HR Manager Ted Van Bronkhorst, a team leader within the IBB talks, said the collaborative approach has left both parties pleased so far, but whether “game day” — and all the finance talks that go with it — will bring things to a close cannot be certain.

“We’re not putting all our eggs in Wednesday’s basket,” Van Bronkhorst said.

Several unknowns are ahead for both groups. Hannan said a landmark case by the Alaska Supreme Court between Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the state of Alaska could mean heading back to the drawing board. The law Ketchikan’s attorneys are calling into question — required school funding by municipalities in order to qualify for state funding — changes “game day” in a big way.

“If the (Alaska) Supreme Court rules (municipalities) don’t have to contribute, everything comes to a screeching halt,” Hannan said.

The effects of such a ruling would only be problematic if JSD and JEA agree upon a multi-year contract.

For now, if “game day” is a success and nothing else changes, a contract that will last until June 30, 2016, will finally be in place.

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

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