The contract ratified by the Sitka Education Association in April is the second three-year agreement in which teachers have agreed to no pay raise in the first year. The district is cutting eight positions next year. Said president Roxann Gagner, “It’s awfully hard to tell the membership that money matters more than positions. If we’re advocating for smaller class sizes, we need more teachers in the district.” (KCAW file photo)

Sitka’s school teachers won’t get a pay raise next year.

The Sitka School Board on Wednesday (5-1-19) approved a new three-year contract with the Sitka Education Association that foregoes a pay raise next year, and includes relatively small raises in the two following years.

Both the district administration and teachers’ union say uncertainty over education was critical to the compromise, which is intended to keep more teachers in classrooms.

Among many other variables, negotiations with Sitka’s approximately 120 certified teachers have loomed over the district’s budget process for most of the year.

Superintendent Mary Wegner told the school board that negotiations were not especially adversarial.

“We have been negotiating since November,” she said. “And when we started we were pretty far apart on a lot of issues. But it was a healthy discussion that was incredibly productive. And what we have is an important document, a testament to our support for teachers, and the support we place on them.”

The three-year deal leaves the pay scale at current levels for next year, then bumps pay 1-and-a-quarter percent in the 2020-21 school year, and then 2 percent in the 21-22 school year.

The school board in April passed a budget that shrinks the district by eight positions. Further reductions could be possible, depending on the outcome of a political battle between Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who’d like to cut education funding by $300 million next year, and the legislature, which wants to see a far less drastic cut — or maybe no cut at all.

Sitka Education Association president Roxann Gagner says that the no-raise provision of the teacher’s contract was intended to offset some of the pressure on education funding.

“We were aware of what was happening at the state level — as hopefully everyone is,” said Gagner. “But when you are in a situation like our district is in of losing teachers, it’s awfully hard to tell the membership that money matters more than positions. If we’re advocating for smaller class sizes, we need more teachers in the district.”

The contract is similar to one approved by the SEA in 2016, which also had no pay raise in the first year, and then relatively modest increases over the next two years. A new teacher in the district in the 2019-2020 school year will earn the same pay they did this year: $49,600. Over three years that will climb to $51,224.

A veteran teacher with a Masters Degree and 15 years or more of experience will earn $79,225 during the first year of the contract, and $81,820 in the third.

Teachers who coach or supervise activities sign extra-duty contracts for compensation beyond the base pay scale.

Gagner has been a teacher at Blatchley Middle School for 17 years. She believes Sitka’s teachers are a good value.

“Teachers are always going back and getting more education. Our pay needs to recognize that we are professionals doing a professional job, and that the quality of education in Sitka is above standard in Alaska, and in a majority of the rest of the nation.”

The school board’s vote to approve the contract was unanimous. Member Eric Van Cise was absent.