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Contract negotiations between school district and teachers union remain work in progress after federal mediation

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 9:57 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2021 at 5:29 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District and Anchorage educators will likely head into the new year without a contract after the two sides met with a federal mediator on Wednesday.

“Everybody I think was giving it their best effort, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to a settlement tonight. We’re still pretty far apart,” Anchorage Education Association President Corey Aist said in a phone interview Wednesday night.

The negotiations between the educators and the district reached a deadlock in November, and they’ve met with a federal mediator three times this month to reach an agreement. They’ve agreed to continue mediation the first or second week of January 2022, but they don’t have an official date, according to the district.

Heading into Wednesday’s mediation, the district said 14 out of 92 contract articles remained at issue and they revolved around salaries and health compensation. Aist said they were able to take a couple of items off the table but compensation, retention and instructional planning time remain sticking points for teachers.

“We’re also a little bit boggled that the district is trying to take instructional planning time away, and grading days away, and different things that support student learning,” Aist said.

A spokesperson for the school district initially said she would update Alaska’s News Source with any statement that became available following Wednesday’s meeting. In an emailed statement Thursday, district spokesperson Lisa Miller pushed against Aist’s comment about planning time and wrote that the has not proposed reductions in teacher planning time.

The contract negotiations come at a time when the school district is projecting a $67.09 million budget deficit for next year with $91 million remaining in federal grant money through the ARP Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III fund.

Aist suggested the district has enough federal funding to better compensate teachers, and he would like to see that reflected in the district’s offers during contract negotiations.

“We don’t understand how so much money could be given and how there can’t be offers on the table that are reasonable and help the financial security of our members, of our educators and our community,” Aist said.

While educators argued for the use of federal funds to help offset the district’s budget deficit, the district said it’s taking a longer-term approach.

“While it’s been extremely helpful in the short term, Dr. Bishop has shared that one-time federal funding is not a responsible long term financial investment in education, and we must prepare for when it ends,” Spokesperson Lisa Miller wrote in an email Thursday.

The two sides have been working towards an agreement since March, and teachers are working through the 2021-22 school year without a contract.

In November, the district offered AEA a contract they said was a 10.5% salary increase along with step and lane increases that allow for raises for additional years of experience. The proposed contract from November was for three years and would have gone through June 30, 2024. The district added it would offer new health insurance choices offer savings of $3,000.

The district website also outlined the educator’s contract proposal and said they were looking for a $30 million compensation package for one year through June 30, 2022. Educators also wanted to boost the district’s insurance contribution by 13%.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with response and more information from the Anchorage School District.

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