PALMER — Hundreds of red shirt wearing educators packed the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board meeting on Wednesday to voice their concern with the unsettled contract negotiations between the school district and the Mat-Su Educators Association and Classified Employees Association.

Following recognition of the outstanding performances by athletes in fall sports, educators took to the podium to perform a defense of their wages and benefits. Teachers have been without a contract since the beginning of the semester and classified employees have been operating on an expired contract for 886 days. The current proposal from the school district proposes no language for hard to fill positions, attendance incentives or recognition of service. The school district proposal offers zero salary increase in 2020 with a $1,500 bonus and $1,000 added to each cell in the salary schedule in Fiscal Year 2020. MSEA is asking for a three percent salary increase in 2020 and 2021 with a 2.5 percent salary increase in 2022.

“Your motto is preparing students for success. With all due respect, you are not preparing students for success we are,” Kathleen Yerbich said. “That’s our job. Your job is to care about us, your teachers, your educators so that yes, students will succeed. Your teacher community is asking that you do your job. Offer us a fair contract. Repair our retirement.”

Seen as a ‘lighthouse’ district attracting qualified educators from all around the country in the past, MSBSD has lost it’s deep pool of prospective hires due in part to the 2006 change by the legislature to eliminate the defined benefit retirement system in favor of a defined contribution system. Alaska is the only state that lacks defined benefits and social security for CEA’s. MSEA President Dianne Shibe was treated to a round of applause from the hundreds of educators that had turned the school board chambers into a sea of red.

“Please make a commitment to incentivize working in this district. Your employees deserve your commitment and every single one of our students, present and future do as well,” Shibe said.

Shibe received an even more raucous bout of clapping as she left the podium, only for newly elected School Board President Tom Bergey to ask the audience to refrain from clapping. Teaching for 16 years in the MSBSD, Amy Riggan asked for classroom participation from the seated educators. Riggan asked for a show of hands for teachers that took extra time to participate in instructional teams, monthly family nights, fundraising, and field trips.

“I’ve also stood here in the audience more times than I can count to fight for my job, a job that I do very well and am very proud to have,” Riggan said.

As many educators raised their hands for Riggan and kept them raised for each category, Riggan told the school board that there is no tired like teacher tired. Unable to audibly represent their approval for Riggan’s testimony, the sea of red shirt wearing educators waved their hands in the air as Riggan left the podium to be seated.

The MSEA is hoping to sign a three-year contract, while MSBSD initially came to the negotiating table with a one-year deal which has since grown to two years. MSBSD has already been through two arbitrations, one with the principals association and one with the CEA’s, and professional mediation between MSBSD and the MSEA will begin on Dec. 10.

“MSEA and CEA want very much to avoid a strike, but we are willing to go through that painful process to ensure the MSBSD is once again the district of choice for educators in Alaska. We have to fight extra hard because Alaska is no longer the state of choice it once was for educators, and shame on our legislators for that,” Shibe said.

CEA president Karen Salisbury lamented the fact that classified employees are asked to stay late, skip breaks, and do more with less. The CEA and MSBSD entered mediation in January and arbitration in August. Last year classified employees were asked to give up leave time and two years ago, 120 Special Education teachers gave up 12.5 percent of wages. Many of Sailsbury’s 900 classified employees work extra jobs to make ends meet.

“We’re asking you to acknowledge the work that we do and the ever changing challenges that we adapt to every day for our schools, for our students, for our staff; we’re asking you to respect our profession and our dedication. We’re asking you to recognize the commitment that we have to providing an excellent public education for the students of this Valley. We’re more than ready to move forward. We’re asking for a fair contract,” Salisbury said.

Shibe noted the perils of a seven-period day, as MSBSD is the only district in the state with such a schedule. Shibe also lamented the large class sizes, noting that difficulty in attracting and retaining quality teachers will harm the district in the long run. Shibe believes that MSBSD’s proposal incentivizes teachers to leave the Valley to work for the Anchorage School District and recounted stories of teachers nearing retirement that saw the MSBSD’s contract proposal as a reason to retire early.

Dr. Jamin Burton asked the school board if they, too, were tired of the process of hearing from beleaguered educators. Burton detailed the woes of the spring semester of 2019 where he searched for an attractive place to move his family during spring break and polished his resume at the end of the school year, unsure if MSBSD was where he wanted to teach.

“We are not a revenue generating business,” Burton said. “We take care of our community. That’s why I’m still here, because I believe in community. I believe in this community.”

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