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Teachers and Support Staff at impasse with FNSBSD

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Teachers and school support staff in Fairbanks are still working without union contracts. Negotiations between the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District with both the Fairbanks Education Association, FEA, and the Education Support Staff Association, ESSA have stalled and neutral, third-party negotiator will try to move talks forward.

The school district started to meet with the Fairbanks Education Association, FEA, in December 2021. The Education Support Staff Association, ESSA, has been negotiating since February, 2022. In May, the district administration announced they could not move forward, and called a recess over the summer. Both unions have contracts that ended last June.

A month after negotiations started again in August, 2022, the district announced that after 10 meetings, it was at an impasse with the teachers’ union. However, talks with the support staff union continued until November, when they similarly ran aground.

Now a federal negotiator has been requested to help move talks forward.

“It's to move everybody along. It's to have that third-party listener,” Ryan said.

That’s Sandi Ryan, President of the Fairbanks Teachers Association, which represents 750 teachers in the district. She says inflation has eaten away at teacher salaries, something they heard in member surveys.

“Our team really, really believes in getting as much input that they can from members before they come to the table and also during the process. And as far as money was concerned, our members came back pretty loud and clear that they expect meaningful movement on the salary schedule,” Ryan said.

But Ryan says it is not just about money. She says other school districts around Alaska are also negotiating in the post-COVID environment where teachers and support staff did far beyond their duties.

“The issues are going to be the same pretty much for whoever is in this pickle right at this minute. It, it's going to be a combination of language for us around, uh, safety and uh, language that has to do with -- this is beginning sound cliché -- of respect,” she said.

Danielle Logan, Education Support Staff Association (ESSA) President said in an email message that the association is not budging on training, and maintenance of standards. She wrote: “ESSA is still negotiating for better safety language in the contract to ensure all employees and students can educate and learn in the safest environments possible. The ESSA bargaining team has heard this concern loudly and clearly from our members and until we receive updates to the current contract language, a settlement may be out of reach.”

She says ESSA members are also hit by recent inflation.

“Right now, 80% of education support staff members work a second job just to make ends meet. This is problematic for several reasons but at the heart of the matter is that our members are burned out and can't focus all of their time and attention on providing their services to students.”

Both Logan and Ryan say retention is a huge problem that has gotten worse since the pandemic began, but it is not all COVID-related. Ryan says sometimes it is small things:

“We're trying to get, uh, the recognition for little things like the need of a reserve parking place for our itinerant staff. Teachers travel from building to building sometimes two or three buildings in a single day,” Ryan said.

Logan says it is about onboarding and ongoing training. She wrote:

“We want to make sure all new employees understand who they'll be working with, feel supported, and have a point of contact to welcome them into their position. Beyond the onboarding process, ESSA is advocating for effective and useful training for employees. In practice, this means a new hire would spend time job shadowing a seasoned employee in their same job classification to truly learn the skills and responsibilities it takes to be effective,” she wrote.

She said investing in employees with training saves the district money in the long run.

The FNSBSD Communications Director Joshua Duvall said the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) will meet with ESSA, starting Friday January 13, 2023. FEA will meet tentatively starting on February 23, 2023.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.