Protesting lack of new contracts, Anchorage teachers’ union hosts walk-ins

Students, educators and community members link arms at Creekside Park Elementary in support of teachers. (Photo courtesy of Denielle Baldwin)

Today was the first day of school in Anchorage, and for the second year in a row, teachers are starting the year without a new contract. Teachers aren’t talking about a strike but they did hold awareness building events this morning.

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Dozens of community members, students and educators gathered outside of Creekside Park Elementary eating donuts and celebrating the first day of school. Principal Tim Andrew told the crowd that the teachers are starting the year without a contract and asked for their support. Then the group walked into the school, linking arms.

First grade teacher Crystal Whitney says the union hosted walk-ins across the district because they want people to know that teachers are still at work and still care for the students, despite the added stress of no contract.

“It’s just adds some extra burdens. You feel a little disrespected. You feel like you’re not heard. You feel a little undervalued,” Whitney said. “You feel like you have to fight a little bit harder, so you’re going to extra meetings for the board to hear you. You’re going to extra meetings for the district, the community… all of that to hear you.”

Whitney says the negotiations are not just about money. They are also about working conditions and making sure that students are in small classes.

Some of the union’s requests include additional support for children with special educational needs, and giving teachers more flexibility in their lesson planning to accommodate different learning styles. That includes allowing teachers to plan for more recess time if they think their students need it.

Todd Hess is the Chief Human Resource Officer for the Anchorage School District. He says he met with the teachers’ union six times over the summer and that negotiations are continuing.

“We’re engaged in a collective bargaining process and that’s a give and take process and and it takes time to work through the issues and the school board has to look and address the needs of the entire community,” Hess said. “And try and do what’s best for all of our students.”

Hess says the district cannot afford the pay increase the union is asking for, which would total about $57 million over three years. He is confident that they will reach an agreement. Teachers are currently continuing under the one-year contract that was signed in early 2018 and expired on June 30.