PALMER — Mat-Su Borough educators made a statement during public testimony at the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board meeting on Wednesday that they are unhappy with the last, best offer from the district.
Of members of the public who spoke about contract negotiations between the district and the Mat-Su Education Association, 10 of the 12 asked the district to continue negotiations while the other two suggested the teachers sign the contract they were offered. Last Friday, MSEA President Dianne Shibe began polling teachers about a potential vote to strike.
“You are eroding the profession that Alaskans depend on to educate our children and grandchildren. We are not even asking to be compensated as well as Anchorage and the other larger districts even though our work load is greater because we have the largest class sizes and our secondary teachers teach six classes instead of the typical five,” said Jackie Cunningham. “What we are asking for is even less than what the arbitrator said is fair. What we are asking for is the board’s bargaining team to return to the table.”
The MSEA has worked without a contract for over 18 months, and recently the MSBSD’s bargaining team put together an offer they described as the last and best. On Friday, MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani published an opinion piece concerning the contract, which angered many of the educators who spoke on Wednesday.
“What are you guys doing,” asked Tim Walters. “You’re not helping the situation, you’re making it worse. If you want to support kids, you’ve got to support teachers.”
Following a full public testimony period during the first part of the meeting and several emotional testimonies offered during the second portion, Board Vice President Jim Hart offered somewhat of an explanation.
“This offer that the district offered up asks to buy one more year, basically giving each teacher currently serving the equivalent of an additional PFD just for the privilege of having one additional year to buy the Superintendent time to make the cuts needed to finance the increased wages and increased medical costs to the district,” said Hart. “Before you heap too much more abuse on the Superintendent, he’s the reason why we came forward and said we think we can do this much. The budget and the fiscal reality is why we said this contract proposal is our last best offer.”
Hart said that the major contributing factor to the uproar over the most recent offer was the newly hired Dr. Trani. Hart also said that union members seem to prefer information from one source, which he does not believe is permissible in student reports.
“The crime so to speak that the district has been accused of is communicating with the teachers, communicating, giving them additional information, giving a viewpoint that they are not used to hearing from, and frankly giving the public that viewpoint as well,” said Hart.
Many teachers mentioned that MSBSD has the largest class sizes and lowest pay for teachers among Alaskan school districts. Alaska is the only state that lacks both social security and defined pension for teachers. MSEA President Shibe said during her public testimony that the district should return to the bargaining table immediately.
“We do what we need to do to get the job done, now it’s your turn. You’ve had 18 months to bargain in good faith, instead you wage a PR campaign that creates distrust and disrespect. Instead in the light of this pandemic you threaten our participation in the health trust...Your last best offer asks us to pretend that the 2019-2020 school year never happened, but it did and we rose to the challenge. We are again rising to the challenge set before us and you need to do the same,” said Nancy Blake. “We ask you to be fair instead of trying to use the word as a weapon in your disrespectful PR attempts.”