ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Thursday morning intense negotiations over a teacher contract for the Anchorage School District began. By afternoon after school was out for the day, teachers marched to bring awareness about the lack of a contract.
Two mediators from Seattle spoke with the teachers union in the morning and then met with the district afterward. Later in the day, everyone sat down together to talk.
After the hour-long session with the mediators in the morning, the head of the Anchorage Education Association said he was "hopeful."
"Everything's on the table," Tom Klaameyer, the AEA president said. "We're going to do the hard work, roll up our sleeves, and see if we can't come out with a contract. There's got to be some sort of middle ground that works for everybody, we hope.
ASD echoed those statements during a lunchtime break.
"I would categorize it as 'hopeful' and both sides are interested in having discussions that bring us closer together," Todd Hess, Chief Human Resource Officer for ASD said.
This year teachers returned to classrooms without an agreed-upon contract, but the Anchorage Education Association and the Anchorage School District say both sides appear to be moving to an agreement.
Both sides are still very far apart.
Here's where things stand right now as far as pay increases over the next three years:
AEA (requested) / Anchorage School District (offered)
3 percent / 0 percent
3 percent / .75 percent
3.5 percent / 1.5 percent
The Anchorage School District has said that if it was to agree to a 3 percent increase the first year, then 200 positions would have to be eliminated.
The district says without increases from the state, ASD is in the difficult situation of having to move money around and still ensure student success. According to ASD, the Base Student Allocation hasn't increased in three years, essentially flat-funding the school district.
The union and the district are also debating some other finer points of the contract including methodology over teaching.
"I think that the district recognizes that there are some concerns by our teachers out there, and quite honestly, there are a number of legitimate concerns in terms of flat funding from the state relating to the Anchorage School District," Hess said. "There are concerns related to some of the new expectations we have in terms of curriculum and the efforts that teachers need to make to ensure that all of our students are making progress in their classroom studies."
After school Thursday afternoon, teachers walked out of class protesting and bringing public awareness about their lack of a contract. At West High School teachers marched to a nearby bridge with signs. Several cars honked in support.
"It's important to keep teaching the kids, but dog-gone it, sometimes I worry more about teachers in the future," Sven Berglund, a teacher at West High School, said.
Mediation is scheduled to proceed until 5:00 Thursday afternoon. If a deal isn't reached talks will continue Friday.
As of 3:00, Klaameyer texted an update.
"Still hard at work!"
Mediation is expected to continue Friday.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.