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Public testimony in defense of teachers dominates the Mat-Su Borough School District meeting

A revised budget for FY2021 was passed during the gathering as well
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District meeting on Sept. 16 2020.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District meeting on Sept. 16 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 6:56 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Teachers and parents concerned about contract negotiations between the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and the local teachers union filled the public testimony time at a regular board meeting Wednesday. The meeting happened not only during tumultuous times between the groups, however, but also comes on the heels of a positive case of coronavirus being identified at Palmer High School.

“As a teacher of this district, led by this school board, I do not feel encouraged,” said Learen Wolfe, an MSBSD teacher, at Wednesday’s meeting. “In fact, I feel discouraged, disrespected. I feel underappreciated and unsupported.”

[RELATED: Mat-Su teachers' union says strike vote will begin Tuesday]

Wolfe, and most others who testified, said teachers are doing far more than administering lesson plans and are now getting less in return. The board has refuted this on multiple occasions, maintaining that the current offer is fair, but those who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting don’t seem to think so.

“Teachers are feeding kids that are hungry, finding clothes and shoes for them, being a comforting shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear,” said Gina Manchini, a teacher in the district. “Teachers have stepped up to the plate and figured out how to make it happen, with no training.”

The negotiations over teacher contracts appear to be at a standstill after the board made what it called its “last, best offer,” earlier this month. The Matanuska-Susitna Education Association, the teachers union, opened up a vote for a strike on Tuesday.

An email sent by the district to borough families Tuesday said that “The impasse occurred on August 26, 2020, when MSEA rejected the School Board’s last best offer commitment to increase the teacher salary schedule this school year and the next two school years by 1.75% each year. The Board further committed to pay $22,320 per teacher per year towards their health insurance premium, plus 50% of premium increases each year.” Those commitments would increase the district’s expenditures by about $23 million, the email said.

Superintendent Randy Trani said little about the negotiations Wednesday, which was not an agenda item, and only touched briefly on coronavirus cases in Valley schools.

The board on Wednesday also passed revisions to the budget for the fiscal year 2021, adding about $3 million from projected charter school carryover, as well as several other smaller changes to expenses. The item passed unanimously.

At the end of the meeting, however, teacher talk proved king, with the entirety of the second half of public testimony, also dominated with those in defense of teachers.

“We insist on being paid for 2020,” said teacher Lisa Boswell. “That isn’t greedy. That’s fair.”

The union’s vote to strike is set to go through Friday. A closed-door executive meeting, focusing on the contract negotiations as well as a transportation contract, took place immediately after the board meeting Wednesday.

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