Teacher contract negotiations were not an action item on Wednesday’s Ketchikan School Board meeting, but they were a big topic of public comment.

Parents and teachers took turns at the lectern, asking the board to find a way to negotiate a contract with the teacher’s union. Parent Liz Jones said she’s disappointed with what she said is a disservice to district employees.

Jones said a recent decision to move to non-binding arbitration means negotiations will drag on for several more months.

“The best analogy that I can come up with for this situation is a couple of kids playing in the sandbox. One doesn’t get their way, they kick sand at the other, and get up to storm off and sulk in a corner. That child in my opinion is the district,” Jones said. “It’s about time to put on your big-girl panties and learn how to play nice with the other kids.”

Ketchikan Education Association Vice President Sarah Campbell spoke about the teacher salary schedule. She said the “step” and “lane” salary increases teachers receive on that schedule reflect years of experience and levels of education that teachers have earned.

Campbell said those don’t count as a cost of living wage increase, because teachers would receive those increases with or without a new contract.

She said what the district has offered is $700.

“Seven-hundred dollars is less than 1 percent for me,” she said. “Current cost of living (increases) is estimated at 2.2 (percent).”

Teacher and KEA communications chair Frankie Urquhart talked about the union’s health insurance proposal. She said the district has mismanaged its health insurance over the past decade, and the reserve fund has been in a deficit that entire time.

A big part of the union’s proposal would bring that fund out of its now-$1.1-million deficit, she said, and that should not be counted against the union.

“KEA members in all three of our bargaining units are not responsible for the insurance deficit, nor the cost of paying it off,” she said. “You, the school board, and the superintendent have fiduciary responsibility for the management of our health care plan and the insurance reserve, including any deficit in the reserve.”

Urquhart added that the health insurance fund’s annual audit is public information, but the union has not been able to obtain copies of some audits from the district despite numerous requests. She asked the board to require the district to provide that public information.

Retired teacher Myra Zelensky objected to the board excluding Board Member Diane Gubatayao from participating in teacher negotiations. Gubatayao has been left out because her daughter is a teacher and Board President Trevor Shaw has ruled that is a conflict of interest.

Zelensky said her own mother was school board president many years ago and never was excluded from teacher contract negotiations even though Zelensky’s brother was a teacher at that time.

“If Mrs. Gubatayao is not living (with) and financially dependent on a school district employee, such as her daughter, there is no reason for her to be kept away from your discussions in negotiations,” Zelensky said.

The board didn’t respond to public comment regarding negotiations. There was an executive session to discuss that topic, but no action was taken following that closed-door meeting.

Also on Wednesday, the board approved a revision of its employee non-discrimination policy, and added “sexual orientation” to the list. That passed unanimously.

The board also approved the formation of a Native Education Committee, and canceled its second meeting in June. The next Ketchikan School Board meeting will be July 11.

Here’s an earlier report we aired about stalled negotiations, and the decision to go to arbitration.