At a scheduled Regional School Unit 40 board meeting April 4, an unscheduled announcement was made in protest of the lack of contract negotiations for about 200 teachers in the district.

During the meeting, Paul Forest, president of the Medomak Valley Education Association, addressed the board. With a majority of the district present, he stated "the staff has elected to begin working for rule," which means "living up to the letter of their current contract" but nothing more.

Forest explained that negotiations began in December 2011, and their contracts expired Oct. 31, 2012.

After negotiations have come to a standstill and mediation has failed, "we are now going into fact finding," said Forest on behalf of the teachers.

In a prepared statement, Forest read, "We feel we've given process a chance. The board has proposed a system that is designed to fail."

"The negotiations have withheld step raises that were due this year, and the teachers feel their only recourse is time, meaning the time that we put in above and beyond the normal school day."

"We will live up to the letter of our contract with regard to arrival and dismissal times," Forest read, "and will perform all duties." He added no decisions have been made on curtailment of other activities.

An invitation was sent for the full board to meet with Forest and the teachers, and Forest issued the invite again to Board Chairman Danny Jackson.

An invitation for anybody else wishing to speak on behalf of the issue was made. As the room started to clear, board member Tod Brown stated he would like to respond, to which the crowd re-entered the room.

"Your presence shows how much you care about the children you teach," Brown began, himself a teacher for 40 years.

Brown said the board has been told by negotiators, "the teachers are working as hard as they can and cannot do any better. They've even given us a list of reasons why they cannot do any better."

He suggested the 3 percent raise each year for the next three years the MVEA has proposed is "more money for status quo."

"That's a hard sell to the public in these times," said Brown who noted that at the present time four of seven schools do not meet the goals of "No Child Left Behind" and two schools are on a Continuous Improvement Plan or CIP.

"What we are in search of is increased performance on the one hand and higher pay on the other," he said.

The board made the following offer to the teachers:

— a raise of 2.66 percent including step for the present year of contract

— a raise of 2.5 percent including step for the second year

— voluntary incentives to include:

A. voluntary school incentive of  $1,000 per teacher for at least one of the CIP schools if there is a growth of 10 percent in students meeting the standards in both reading and math, instituted by a vote of at least 66 percent of the faculty

B. Other schools may participate voluntarily if 66 percent of the bargaining unit agrees

C. individual teacher voluntary advanced degree program incentive of $500 for enrollment in and completion of six hours toward an educational advanced degree in relevant classroom instruction

D. voluntary facilitator professional development incentive $300 for a teacher who facilitates staff development at the school or district level

E. voluntary project- or community-centered learning incentive of $500 as a result of evidence that demonstrates a project- or community -centered learning

F. Student work portfolio incentive of $200 if a teacher produces a portfolio of student work and assessment of standards that aligns with the common core and contains evidence as supported by a Rubric of necessary entries.

"That's a total of $2,500 if you are doing the math," said Brown.

Brown went on to say the board is required by law to have a teacher effectiveness pilot program in place by the 2014-2015 school year.

"The net result is we've closely matched MVEA, and exceed raises given in surrounding districts," said Brown.

"What has been missing is a willingness to change and try something different, quoting Henry Ford, "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you've always got."

Brown concluded by stating that the board clearly has faith in its teachers, and "we hope the MVEA will join with us."

The audience asked if it could make another comment, which was denied.

The board then went on to the next item on the agenda, as the crowd of teachers dispersed.

In the hallway downstairs at Medomak Middle School, Forest and a group of teachers met briefly to discuss what had happened.

"The best thing we can do for ourselves is stay together. It's not going to be fun, it's not going to be comfortable. But that's all we've got," Forest told the group.

There now is a 30-day "cooling off period" for the board to look at the situation, after which time the report can go public. Forest did tell the group that the negotiations include the step raises they were due, which actually means a lesser percent increase than was conveyed.

"Work to the letter of the contract," were Forest's parting words.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at bbirmingham@courierpublicationsllc.com.