By Jenny Neyman
The mood outside the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offices in the George A. Navarre Borough Building at 5:30 p.m. Monday was festive, at times feeling more like a school field trip than a rally to demonstrate the district employees’ willingness to stand up for better pay and health care benefits in ongoing contract negotiations, to the point of being willing to strike.
A tent set up behind the parking lot housed a table full of snacks — cookies, chips, beverages and hot dogs fresh off a grill. A vehicle parked nearby with its hatchback open was stuffed with signs for rally attendees to choose from, with slogans such as, “Fair Contract Now!” “Stand up for Schools,” “Pay it Forward,” “World Class Staff,” “Students are our priority” and, “Honk if you love teachers.”
LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, and Margie Warner, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, welcomed the couple hundred rally participants, some of which came by school bus from Seward and Homer.
Two representatives of the Matanuska-Susitna School District’s classified association also attended to show solidarity with their KPBSD colleagues.
“Mat-Su feels your pain. We were 400 plus days without a contract, so we know exactly what you’re going through, and we totally agree that you deserve a fair contract, a cost of living wage (increase), and we’re here to support you in any way that we can,” said Lorie Miner, the Mat-Su classified association president.
Ron Fuhrer, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, also attended.
“NEA-Alaska wants you to know that we support KPESA and KPEA members and, unfortunately, this has to occur because of flat funding from the state the last three years, which is unacceptable for the future of our students,” he said. “… The bottom line is, nothing else is flat. The costs increase. We need money from the state Legislature.”
Rally participants were there to make a statement to district administration, the community and the KPBSD Board of Education, meeting inside, that employees want a quick and fair resolution to ongoing contract negotiations, currently in arbitration. The negotiating teams for KPEA and KPESA are proposing that district salaries be linked to the
Consumer Price Index for Anchorage, to make sure they keep up with inflation, and that health care costs be split, with the district paying 85 percent and employees 15 percent.
Rally attendees wanted the statement to be seen and heard, so Druce, true to her teacher background, led the crowd in a few practice cheers before sending them to march up and down Binkley Street.
“OK, here we go, here’s some chants. Ready? I always wanted to be a cheerleader, this is my moment. When I say ‘Union’ you say ‘Power.’ Union,” Druce called.
“Power!” the crowd answered.
“OK, that’s excellent. Very good, you’re learning,” she said, to whoops from the crowd.
An hour and a half later, when the board of education meeting convened in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers, the mood was much different. Gone were the jokes, smiles and enthusiastic waves to passing motorists, replaced by emphatic pleas for a resolution to contract negotiations, told in personal stories of financial challenges and tinged with a sense of frustration over not feeling valued and adequately compensated by the district. About 40 people addressed the board, both in person and in the form of letters read by colleagues.