Teacher steps and lanes — or incremental salary increases based on seniority and education level – were unfrozen Wednesday by the Ketchikan School Board.

The district and Ketchikan Education Association have been negotiating a new teacher contract. The former contract expired in spring of 2017. That contract includes a statement that steps and lanes will be frozen until a new contract has been negotiated.

Teachers say that clause has become increasingly punitive as negotiations dragged on for about two years. They requested the district honor steps and lanes as a show of good faith that a negotiated contract is now within reach.

Following an executive session near the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Board President Matt Eisenhower announced that the board had given that direction to school district administrators.

“Because this is a contractual issue, the board will need to take specific action up at its next meeting once we fulfill some paperwork obligations – the hold-harmless and the contract being changed,” he said. “But again, we’ve directed staff to begin working administratively to provide historic steps and lanes, which will, approximately, (looks like) retrospectively 18 months to catch us up to current date. And moving forward, steps and lanes will be recognized.”

That was the only announcement from the executive session. At the start of the meeting, though, Eisenhower gave a statement to a packed audience about teacher-contract negotiations.  He said the board is optimistic about the upcoming Oct. 31st negotiating session.

“Specifically, we are optimistic concerning negotiations on the issues of salaries and health insurance benefits,” he said, prompting applause from those in the audience. “The district’s negotiating team is authorized and prepared to discuss these issues. They have very broad authority on the matters.”

Salaries and health insurance are the two main sticking points in negotiations.

Eisenhower said the board plans to ask the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly for additional funding, to pay for any cost increases related to negotiations.

Also Wednesday, the school board appointed Bridget Mattson to the vacant board seat. The position is for one year, and will be up for election next October. Mattson ran for school board in this year’s local election, and was a close fourth for one of the three open seats.

The second applicant for the vacant seat was Tom Huette. When it was his turn to be interviewed Wednesday, he told board members they should choose Mattson.

“Because she went through the trouble of running for office and she garnered a significant number of votes,” he said. “I’m here to respect the process. I found out the information about who was running just this morning when I read the paper.”

Huette withdrew his name from consideration.

The board had another executive session Wednesday to hear a preliminary report on the independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by a teacher. A special meeting to hear a full report has been scheduled for Nov. 12.

The teacher has been criminally charged. The district’s investigation is concerned with how district officials responded to reports before the charges were made.