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Teachers walk out of school board meeting

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Hundreds of teachers in Alaska staged a walkout during a school board meeting to protest the board's leadership.

The Anchorage educators walked out Monday, the night before contract negotiations were scheduled to resume between the school district and teachers union, the Anchorage Daily News reported .

"It was a statement of where they are, which is totally understandable," Anchorage Schools Superintendent Deena Bishop said of the walkout.

The union and district have a list of items to settle before they reach a three-year contract agreement, including major parts of the contract such as salary and health benefits. It also includes more intricate changes to contract language.

The union's contract proposal would cost an additional $54.4 million over its three years, according to the district's estimates. The district says its proposal would cost about an additional $12 million over the same period.

Educators have come to board meetings for months with concerns, but they feel ignored and disrespected, middle school teacher Kadra Peterson said. They're not getting support from board leadership, she added.

The Anchorage School District and Anchorage Education Association union started negotiations in April. They eventually reached a stalemate and called in two federal mediators to help. Their first round of mediation didn't produce a tentative contract. The second round of mediation is scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the union's roughly 3,300 members — including classroom teachers, counselors and school nurses — are working under the terms of a contract that expired June 30.

The walkout was organized by AK Teachers United, a group that started in May, according to middle school teacher Bryce Purcella, one of the founders.

Purcella described the group as a "grassroots movement" of Anchorage educators who joined together to voice concerns. He estimated that between 300 and 400 educators attended Monday's school board meeting, based on the number of handouts distributed.