Teachers and support staff in the Rockland-area school district have begun taking actions to protest the lack of a contract — which for some employees has lasted two and a half years.

Teachers and support staff began "working to rule" last week, according to Seacoast Education Association President and teacher Wendy Jacques. This means that the staff wait to enter the Regional School Unit 13 schools in the morning until they are legally required under the contract.

The teacher contract requires that teachers be in the schools 50 minutes before the start of the student day for three days a week and 20 minutes early for the other two days.

And beginning Monday, Dec. 18, that work to rule will extend to afternoons, meaning teachers and support staff will leave together as soon as their legal obligation under the contract allows. Under the teacher contract, that is 20 minutes after the student day is done.

"As you well know, educational support staff and teachers are in the trenches every day taking care of our communities' greatest treasures," Jacques said Saturday, Dec. 16. "Disrupting student services is not the intent of RSU 13 employees; our work actions are aimed at moving labor talks forward.

"Work to rule will not impact the instruction students receive during the school day," she said.

"It remains my hope that we are able to reach a tentative agreement before our actions escalate to a level that impacts students or the district's work goals. Settling contracts will boost staff morale, help us to attract and retain good people, and allow all sides to put their energy and focus where it belongs, on their own health, families and education," she said.

Negotiators for the district and staff met with a mediator for the fourth time Thursday evening, Dec. 14. Jacques said the session went smoothly, but there was nothing to new to report. She said another meeting had not been scheduled.

There was no immediate response from an email sent to the board chairman and superintendent Saturday. The district covers Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing.

In October, RSU 13 Board Chair Steve 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."

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.

The district approved a five-year extension earlier this month for the superintendent but no terms –such as salary — have been approved. That will await the resolution of the contracts with the staff.

The contracts for principals and most other administrators were approved in June. The contract will require administrators to pay more for their health insurance beginning next year.

In RSU 13 under the expired contract, 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.

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.

Under the Camden-area teacher contract, the number of work days in 2017-2018 reached 185 days. In RSU 13, the number of work days is 180.