PALMER — The tentative contract agreement between the Mat-Su Borough School District and the Mat-Su Education Association came before the MSBSD School Board last week as a non-action item to examine and discuss prior to voting to ratify.
Valley teachers began negotiating with the district for a new contract in the spring of 2019 and have worked under a status quo contract. On Sept. 24, a tentative agreement was made for a retroactive two percent increase for FY20, 21 and 22 among other changes.
“Teaching is an inherently stressful job. Teaching during covid has multiplied that stress. Teaching during covid without a contract made it even harder but tonight I’m proud to announce that 97 percent of MSEA members have voted to ratify the tentative agreement,” said MSEA President Dianne Shibe. “We must strive to create an environment that fosters communication, trust, and collaboration so we can create a lighthouse district for our students. On behalf of MSEA I thank you for settling this contract and I look forward to a collaborative relationship.”
The district’s negotiation team also agreed to increase the hard cap on health insurance increases from $1744 to $1,860 per month per member and included language to allow for a half and half split between the district and employees for health insurance increases in FY21 and 22 above the FY20 premium. Language was also added which allows parties to explore alternate health care providers and to increase the number of creditable years of service for new hires from three to four, which will take effect next year. The national board certification stipend amount was increased from $2,000 to $3,000 and service recognition increased from $150 to $300 per year.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Luke Fulp said that the total amount for retroactive payments to members would be $9.8 million that would come from the unassigned fund balance.
“Do we have that money in the budget today to fulfill this contract. Yes or no, just a yes or no is what I need,” said Board Member Ole Larson.
Larson questioned how the school district would pay for the increase in teachers and speculated that positions would be lost and teachers would have to be laid off to make up the difference in the school district’s budget. The MSBSD budget is mainly paid for by the state which has held a flat Base Student Allocation and funds three quarters of the MSBSD budget while the Mat-Su Borough funds one quarter.
“You either need more revenue or you have to reduce expenditures and so a typical thing to do would be to not replace staff who are retiring if you’re going to make cuts which we don’t anticipate more revenues so we’re probably looking at reducing staffing,” said Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani. “The worst case is we use all of our reserves and then we begin laying off staff members because I don’t’ think anybody anticipates any more revenue. The challenge is these other ideas like health care, can we change our model of instructional delivery. These are the kinds of challenges I’d rather not have but I kind of thrive on the things that feel like impossible. Can we simultaneously increase student achievement and save money, that would require change.”
Executive Director of Human Resources Katherine Garndner provided an update on each of the changes made to the tentative agreement that was ratified by the MSEA membership. Gardner said that the contract was estimated at $19.5 in excess of the status quo budget and that the three-year contract was the longest allowable by law.
“Am I off base on that or is this an assumption and I’m trying to be factual. I’m not trying to be emotional I’m trying to look a year from now or two years from now, I’m looking to try to figure out how we’ll pay for this contract which we will pay for it if this contract if it is ratified because you have to have a balanced budget and we have to figure out how to balance it,” said Larson.
Member Ryan Ponder said that he believed teachers were overdue for pay increases from inaction of previous school boards and that he believed more time should be spent lobbying the state for an increase in funds to pay for the contract.
“I’m working very hard to make sure that we will get funding that we need, that we will look at alternative ways to deliver our education that isn’t as expensive and to look at the health care issues. I think that a lot of it is that we have to work harder on those things to get them to work,” said Member Sarah Welton. “I don’t like how we’re all treating each other. I don’t like how we talk to one another and I want us to look at being a healthy community and role models for our kids. We can work together on this and we can get there and I think that this is a step that we take and we say this is our task to do. It’s our task to make this work.”