Educators Union and School District at odds over impasse

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 4:18 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the bargaining team for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and the Fairbanks Education Association failed to conclude their efforts to finish language for a new contract, with both sides leaving the table in disagreement over where they stand. Sean Genson a former teacher in the district who’s attended the sessions for 15 years said, “It was the most fired up [bargaining] session I have ever seen.”

Educators in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District (FNSBSD) have been working in “dynamic status quo” according to Sandi Ryan, president of the Fairbanks Education Association (FEA). This means educators are currently working off of terms set in the last contract which has expired. Pressure is building on both sides as efforts to come up with a new contract continue.

According to Ryan, before the third session began the school district told FEA that “they want to go to impasse.” At the bargaining session, the bargaining team for the district said that they have exhausted the ability to “make meaningful progress” in their efforts to move forward in the negotiations. Ryan said the “FEA doesn’t feel that way.”

The two sides have had 10 meetings to work on the new contract since the 2021-2022 school year. In that time, 21 articles have been agreed to by the two sides with an additional article tentatively agreed to at Wednesday’s meeting. However 21 articles still remain on the table as proposed by the FEA. According to the FNSBSD, only one side needs to declare an impasse for it to be valid, however the FEA believes that both sides must agree to an impasse before the next steps can be taken. Since the FEA still wants to work on the remaining 21 articles, Ryan says the FEA “doesn’t believe that [they] are at an impasse.”

The school district put out a press release which states that one of the biggest issues for the administration is a proposed increase in salary for the teachers. In the press release, the FNSBSD claims FEA proposed an increase of 5% per year for three years. The school district says this would cost $29.5 million and result in larger class sizes, staffing reductions, and cuts to other programs such as sports and the arts. The FEA however argues for the increase in pay among other proposals because they already face the issues mentioned above, and are working more hours for essentially smaller take home income due to rising inflation.

During the third session of this school year, the district declined working on any more articles. The district confirmed with the FEA during the meeting that they were “unwilling to exchange anything” article for article, Ryan said. According to the district, they already face an $11 million deficit for the 2023-2024 school year. Yet, nine of the 21 articles that remain on the table are non-monetary issues according to the FEA. One of those nine issues is solely focused on changing language in the contract focusing on workplace safety. Another article the FEA claims as non-monetary is about providing reserved parking spots for educators that travel between buildings during the day.

The school district believes that the two sides should move to a mediation process in which a third party would communicate between the two sides, which would meet in separate rooms. The FEA however does not think that this is necessary or possible since they do not believe that they are at an impasse.

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