The gauntlet was longer this month, as teachers and support staff turned out en masse Thursday night, Dec. 7, to protest the lack of a contract, despite three mediation sessions.

The employees of Regional School Unit 13 lined the stairs and first-floor hallway of the McLain School, leaving a narrow path for School Board members to pass through for their meeting.

Board Chairman Steve Roberts said before the meeting that because the contract talks were still in mediation, he could not comment beyond that fact. A fourth mediation session is scheduled for the week of Dec. 11 through 15.

In October, Roberts issued this statement "The RSU is already providing above the state average compensation and benefits that exceed our surrounding communities. We are working to keep our overall compensation package more attractive and generous than the surrounding area while being fair to the local hardworking and/or retired property taxpayers."

Lorie Callaway, former president of the Seacoast Education Association who serves on the negotiations committee, said the holdup is salary, benefits and elementary planning time.

"We are trying very hard to stay out of fact-finding — which would be the next step if mediation fails," Callaway said.

Neither side has released its specific proposals for a new contract.

The teachers have been without a new contract since Aug. 31, 2016, but have been working under those terms. The district has not given step raises, as has been the practice in past negotiations when contracts expire.

The educational technicians, administrative assistants, bus drivers, cooks and custodians have been without a new contract since June 30, 2015.

Representatives of the teachers spoke Thursday night about the impasse.

Alison Machaiek, who has been teaching in the district for 26 years, said she loves the job and the students, but that she is frustrated with the lack of a new contract. The teachers pointed out that the board readily approved new contracts for administrators, including the superintendent.

"The people who are closest to the students are not viewed as a priority," Machaiek said.

The district approved a five-year extension earlier this month for the superintendent but no terms have been approved. The contracts for principals and most other administrators was approved in June. The contract will require administrators to pay more for their health insurance beginning next year.

In RSU 13, the pay for educational technicians starts at $11.08 per hour for someone with no experience. The top pay is $16.37 per hour for someone with higher education and 20 or more years of experience.

Michael McGuire pointed out that the board has approved budgets in the past few years that include money for settling new contracts. He said taxpayers have approved those costs, but the board has not used the monies for that purpose.

The teachers also said the board has not indicated whether, when a contract is reached, raises will be retroactive.

Elementary school teacher Lynn Snow said the amount of time given for elementary teachers to plan all the subjects they teach is not adequate. Snow said she works two hours per day and six hours on weekends beyond what the contract requires so that she can best serve the children.

Under the lapsed teacher contract, the salary scale ranges from a low of $36,250 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience to a high of $63,889 for a teacher with 19 years or more of experience who has earned a master's degree and 15 additional credits. The contract also calls for the district to pay 100 percent of employee health insurance premiums and 75 percent of the difference between the cost of a single policy and a family policy.

A statewide salary list published in the Maine Education Association magazine, Maine Educator, showed a wide range of salaries across the state for 2016-2017. Teachers in Caswell had a pay range of between $31,000 and $44,000. In Falmouth, the pay scale ranged from $38,623 to $77,246. The Five-Town Community School District and SAD 28 had a pay range of $38,584 to $71,863. SAD 40's pay range was $35,752 to $67,528.