MAT-SU — The Mat-Su Borough School District superintendent and Matanuska Education Association’s bargaining team issued competing videos over the weekend claiming different things about the same proposals.
MSEA President Diane Shibe says that the negotiators for MSBSD are sticking to their promise that their most recent offer was their last and best, and educators are becoming increasingly frustrated over new MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani’s communication. After 18 months without a renewed contract, Trani issued a video on Friday on the MSBSD website to discuss how he felt the most recent contract proposal by MSBSD was fair, a word educators take particular offense to.
“The anti-union message, that really made people angry,” said MSEA President Dianne Shibe. “We weren’t able to talk to our members, he just jumps right on it because he has a full time staff able to do this and generate this propaganda.”
The MSBSD’s last, best offer included a three year period between fiscal years 2021 through 2023, another key distinction angering educators. The District’s proposal included a 1.75 percent salary increase each year of their proposal with a one-time $1,500 bonus for all employees this year. The only other difference between the proposals from MSBSD and MSEA comes within the recognition of service where the district has no proposed language and MSEA has asked to double service recognition from $150 to $300. Trani noted the funding formula for MSBSD, noting that the majority of the funding comes from the state where the Base Student Allocation has remained flat for five years. Funding from MSBSD comes in a 72 percent portion from the state with $170,507,673, 27 percent from the Mat-Su Borough with $62,900,148 and one percent Federally accounting for $1,554,925. Trani noted the discrepancy between the final amounts in year three of the proposed contract from each side, citing an $8 million dollar gap.
“According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, the MSBSD is the lowest funded per pupil of the big five. We’re very close to Fairbanks but Kenai, Juneau and Anchorage receive considerably more dollars than we do,” said Trani.
The other major difference between the two sides proposals is insurance provider language change. Trani noted that without the ability as a district, the $8 million gap between the two proposals would have to come from taxpayers.
“The third area where there’s a difference has to do with health care, both parties agree that we should start sharing health care costs. Right now there’s a hard cap and employees in the MSEA are paying all of the increases. We both have agreed that future increases should be shared 50/50 so the district is giving in this case but the MSEA proposal is wanting the district to share without any influence over what the health care provider is. So in other words, the district will be purchasing the vast majority of the health care and not have any influence over who the insurance provider is,” said Trani. “I’m not sure that in the time of this pandemic that the Borough is going to consider at all raising taxes on the people of the Mat-Su.”
MSEA bargaining spokesperson John Notestine also released a video comparing the history of contract negotiations between MSEA and MSBSD, where teachers have received one-time bonuses that do not compound in 2015, 2016, and again in 2017. Over the last 18 months without a contract, teachers have expressed the need to be compensated for 2020 with a pay raise and not a bonus. While Trani used the word ‘fair’ 13 times during his op-ed that appeared in various publications, MSEA does not agree.
“The board calls this fair. We call it foul,” said Notestine.
While the MSBSD proposal offered only a 1.75 percent increase for fiscal years 2021-2023, the MSEA proposal calls for a two percent increase for two years starting with the 2020 salary and a 1.95 percent increase in 2022, the third year of MSEA’s proposal. Trani said that the Mat-Su Borough would have to increase their funding of MSBSD by 13 percent to bridge the gap between the two proposals, but an overwhelming majority of the 800 respondents to a survey sent out to 1,000 MSEA members last week asked negotiators not to accept the district’s last, best offer.
A report from a non-binding independent Federal arbitrator ruled that MSEA should be awarded a 1.5 percent increase for fiscal years 2020-2022, aligning the years with the MSEA proposal. The arbiter also ruled that district contribution to insurance should be an 80 / 20 split as opposed to 50 / 50 agreed upon by both sides.
“This arbitrator finds that the Association’s proposal with its 80/20 cost sharing appropriate. While the association’s proposal places the district as contributing more to health insurance in comparison with other districts, in light of the overall decline in total compensation comparably, and the need to constrain the salary increments, it seems the wisest allocation of resources. It also sends to the teachers a signal that their health, especially in today’s uncertain times, is considered paramount,” wrote the arbitrator.
Notestine noted that the teachers in the Mat-Su teach in the largest class sizes in the state and secondary teachers in MSBSD schools teach six periods where their counterparts across the state only teach between three and five.
“It’s the bargaining teams opinion that the board’s failure to compensate for FY 2020 is not only not fair, it’s wrong. The team thinks that MSEA members deserve compensation for their year’s work. FY 20 was for many, by far the most difficult school year, demanding more work hours from teachers, counselors, and specialists than ever before,” said Notestine. “It’s an absolute insult that the board’s proposed contract refuses to acknowledge that the illusion of a gifted bonus needs to stop. It’s time to start calling it what it really is, an overall compensation loss. These bonuses are degrading your profession and livelihood. It’s a manipulative way to take thousands of earned dollars away from you every year.”