A tentative agreement between the Ketchikan School District and Ketchikan Education Association was reached Monday during a six-hour negotiating session.

Details about the agreement were not available at publication time Tuesday, but both sides confirmed they were able to reach a compromise on a new teacher contract.

School Board President Matt Eisenhower said he’s relieved and excited that an agreement has been reached.

“Most folks understand that this has been a long time in the works,” he said. “There’s great things in the new contract for both sides. The district clearly ensures attracting and retaining the best of the best, and our teachers can be compensated fairly.”

Negotiations have been ongoing for about two years. Ketchikan teachers have been working on an expired contract since spring of 2017.

KEA Vice President Sarah Campbell said in an email that teachers appreciate the community’s support during the negotiations process. She writes that teachers will meet Tuesday evening to review the tentative agreement, and then will vote by paper ballot starting next week. Results should be available by Nov. 21st.

Eisenhower said a change in Ketchikan School Board membership following the October local elections likely was a factor in reaching an agreement.

“I think also the fact that there was arbitration around the corner. It’s a bit of a way to pressure both sides, to say that we can either come to agreement collectively, together, locally; or we can put this in the hands of people outside of our community,” he said.

Mediation was scheduled for later this month, and non-binding arbitration is set for late December. If the union ratifies the agreement, Eisenhower said the school board will consider approving it during its Nov. 28th meeting.

The main sticking points in negotiations have been salary and health insurance. With those apparently settled, the district will face extra costs right away. Salary increases, for example, will be retroactive to spring of 2017.

“So those would be new dollars for our budget this year. We’d need to go to the borough and ask for that increased funding,” he said. “Then next year, our normal budgetary process would go into effect for FY20, in which we would take our budgetary needs to the borough and they would have an opportunity to fund the schools at the level requested or look at an alternative amount.”

While the State of Alaska provides the bulk of education funding, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough holds the purse strings for local public school funds. There is a required local contribution, which is the lowest amount the borough can provide for schools; and then there’s the cap – the highest funding level legally allowed.

The borough funds schools in between the required local contribution and the cap. This fiscal year, local funding totaled about $8.9 million.