Updated: Improved student learning, salary at heart of RSU 40 negotiationsPanel recommends pay increase
Union — The contract dispute between teachers and Regional School Unit 40 hinges on salary, health insurance, extra curricular and administrative stipends, according to a report from The Maine Labor Relations Board.
The board released the report and offered recommendations from a panel appointed to assist in contract negotiations between RSU 40 and Medomak Valley Education Association.
The panel recommends the parties enter into a three-year contract, retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012 and expiring Aug. 31, 2015.
"The most serious damage resulting from the failure to reach agreement is to the students," the report states.
Negotiations began in January 2012 and the last contract expired Aug. 31, 2012.
The fact-finding panel heard from both sides of the issue before making its recommendation in the report.
School board argues case for incentive program
School board members presented concerns to the fact-finding panel that many students who attend RSU 40 may not be properly prepared for their next academic endeavor or career after graduation.
"The primary goal of the [school] board's proposal is to 'improve student learning,' because 70 percent of the students in the school system are not proficient in reading and mathematics," the board states in the report.
The school board reported the district has a very limited tax base, an issue of low parental involvement, low income and indicated taxpayers would not support a salary increase for the teachers. The school board also pointed out the state has yet to provide guidelines to support any connection between teacher compensation and student performance.
However, the school board did recommend a voluntary incentive plan tied to student advancement in the Continuous Improvement Priority System or CIPS classification to measure school performance. And although it would be directly connected to the student's performance, it is not a merit pay, according to the report.
The school board spokesman indicated in the report he did not know if the proposal will increase student performance, but noted the board is eager to try something different since traditional methods have not yielded the desired outcomes.
Teachers' association seeks support
Representatives for Medomak Valley Education Association said research has shown programs that connect teacher pay to student performance are not successful.
The teachers' association further stated potential changes must be made during a three-year timeline. First, a pilot program that allows one year to develop a system for measurable student improvement, one year for planning the implementation of the program and, lastly, one year to implement the program.
The need to establish an evaluation system using measurable results was also recognized by the teachers' association.
"By their choice of teaching as a career, teachers have demonstrated a clear desire to help students learn and grow," the report states. "But the assumption that poor student performance is totally their responsibility is a wrong assumption."
The teachers' association believes student performance is a product of economic and educational level of parents and the failure of the state to provide adequate funds as well as the lack of meaningful leadership at the administration level all lead to low school scores.
The teachers' association expressed concern in the failure of the administration to properly supervise and monitor teaching techniques. Teachers want to be evaluated and want to be accountable to be able to grow professionally.
Numerous superintendent changes in recent years have led to inconsistent leadership and direction, no curriculum and no teacher evaluations, the teachers' association asserts.
The teachers' association argued RSU 40 wages are substantially lower than surrounding districts and pointed out its goal to bring teachers in line with colleagues in other local districts.
Fact-finding panel makes recommendations
After hearing positions from the board and the association, the fact-finding panel made its recommendations, which will be considered as negotiations continue.
The fact-finding panel outlined details of the recommended three-year contract, which includes pay increases, in the report.
A 2.66 percent increase, including all steps, was recommended for the retroactive 2012-2013 school year. For the present school year, a 2.9 percent aggregate increase, including all steps, was recommended. For the 2014-2015 school year, the panel recommended a .5 percent increase above the 2013-2014 scale, plus the implementation of new voluntary incentive programs.
"The panel believes these wage increases will accommodate many of the disparities between RSU 40 and the school systems surrounding it," states the report.
District school principals were requested to form a committee to develop a plan for their respective schools that will be used to measure student improvement as well as what meeting set goals will mean for teachers.
In conclusion, the report from the fact-finding panel states "this dispute represents a unique opportunity for the district."
"Compromise is never perfect for either party," states the panel in the report.
The negotiating committee of the school board previously has met twice with the teachers' association negotiating team.
"We have another session with the teachers early next week. I believe we are making progress," said Interim Superintendent Michael Cormier in an email Oct. 3.
No resolution from Oct. 7 negotiation session
"The MVEA team is disappointed by the current turn of events," stated Paul Forest , president and chief negotiator for MVEA, in an email Oct. 7, following an early morning negotiation meeting between the MVEA negotiating team and the board's team.
"We made a proposal that incorporated elements from both sides of the negotiating table, but it was not accepted at this time," Forest's statement said.
There are currently no dates set for future meetings, according to the email.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at email@example.com.
594-4401 ext. 125
Beth rejoined Courier Publications' news staff in February 2013. She previously worked at The Courier-Gazette from 1981 to 1990.
Her coverage area includes Warren, Union, Friendship, Waldoboro, Washington, and Thomaston and RSU40.
Beth has a passion for photography, and a degree from the University of Maine at Augusta, in affiliation with the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport.
Aside from photography, Beth enjoys running and walks along the waterfront, as well as other outdoor activities. She has a daughter, Claire, who is 13.
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