Challenges in contract negotiations for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District

FNSBSD Chief School Administrator speaks about contract negotiations
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 8:29 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As the Education Support Staff Association and the Fairbanks Educators Association continue to work on a new contract with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in unintended consequences, putting the school district in a difficult situation for contract negotiations.

With lower enrollment during the peak of the pandemic, the school district lost funding. Prior the pandemic in 2018, there were 13,140 students enrolled in the district. During the pandemic that number fell to 11,309 -a difference of nearly 2,000 students.

According the Karen Melin, the Chief School Administrator for the district, the loss in funding caused by the drop in enrollment was “substantial.”

The Fairbanks Education Association is asking for a raise in salaries over the next three years. However, the district already faces an $11 million budget deficit. Melin said much of that deficit was caused by “the loss of students during the pandemic.”

Another major discussion point facing the district is student behavior and expectations. As some students have been out of the classroom for over two years, they have shown a drop in academic performance across the country.

Aa for student behavior issues, the school district administration and the FEA have both discussed handling student behavior problems, as some students are entering elementary school for the first time as third graders. For older students, some of them were last in sixth grade when in-person at their elementary school and are now returning to school for the first time as high school freshmen. “So, they didn’t get seventh or eighth grade and are now being thrust into a high school environment,” Melin said. “It has been a challenge for both the district and the education staff to help these students properly adjust to the new environments.”

Melin said that across the country, school administrators are trying to help their staff navigate these challenges and show that they are valued. However with the deficits faced by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, the administration also has to keep their budget balanced. Melin esaid, “I want to continue to help them feel positive and uplifted,” as the district and unions navigate the negotiation process and the new challenges.

The school district has declared an impasse with the Fairbanks Educators Association, and looks to meet with a mediator to help the two bargaining teams complete their work. Meanwhile, the Education Support Staff Association and the district have scheduled more bargaining sessions and continue to negotiate with less difficulty.