While the agenda was light, Wednesday’s Ketchikan School Board meeting still ran more than four hours, with much of that time dedicated to presentations and public comment.
As has become typical in recent board meetings, teacher contract negotiations were the main topic of public comment. This time, though, teachers who spoke gave a hint that negotiations have moved forward in recent days.
Beth Brandt-Erichsen is the library teacher at Fawn Mountain Elementary School. She says she was pleased that negotiations between Ketchikan Education Association and the school district were progressing. Brandt-Erichsen said it’s been a roller-coaster ride over the past months.
“That roller coaster feeling is so strong that I get a knot in my stomach waiting for a negotiations update,” she said. “Hoping that it is good news, dreading that it is not.”
Brandt-Erichsen said it’s great that some progress was made this week, but it’s small progress and it’s taken too long. She asked the board to maintain that forward momentum as negotiations continue.
Jolene Thomas is a preschool teacher. She gave an overview of what preschool teachers do for their students. She also talked about some of the values they try to teach: Safety, courage, honesty, kindness and perseverance.
Thomas encouraged the board to persevere, and not give teachers a reason to leave.
“Don’t give the best teachers a reason to go elsewhere,” she said. “Don’t ever give up on finding creative solutions to keep our district the best that it is right now.”
Student board member Michael Starr also addressed negotiations. It was his last board meeting before graduation, and he said he wanted to give some closing comments.
Starr says the board’s “boss” is the community, especially parents and students.
“When your boss is practically screaming and telling you how they want you guys to represent them and spend their money with yard signs, bumper stickers, honking horns, it makes my stomach turn that we’re not listening,” he said. “I’m not in a position to say – I’m 17, I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time – but I think ‘yes’ or ‘we’ll work on it’ or ‘let me work with you’ should be in our vocabulary more than just ‘no.’”
No board member addressed teacher contract negotiations specifically. Board Member Alma Parker, though, said she appreciates teachers. Parker was born in the Philippines and says she was the first in her family to graduate from high school.
Parker, speaking emotionally, said her parents worked hard and couldn’t be home a lot of the time.
“It’s the teachers that were part of my family. I appreciate those who are out there, and those who overextend themselves, especially to immigrant children,” she said. “I know we have a very big population of Filipinos here and they really rely on the teachers in our community.”
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.
The district and KEA have been negotiating a new contract since February of 2017. The current teacher contract expired at the end of last June.
The board had an executive session Wednesday to discuss ongoing KEA negotiations. No action was taken following that closed-door meeting.