2018-06-08 / Front Page

Board OKs boost to teacher pay

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

The RSU 21 Board of Directors has voted on a new three-year contract for teachers that includes a 13.9 percent pay hike for new teachers and a possible 10.2 percent pay raise for more experienced faculty.

The unanimous vote to ratify the new contract came at the June 4 board meeting. The new pay scales go into effect Sept. 1 and will remain in force through Aug. 31, 2021. The exact nature of the salary increases for all teachers cannot be determined, however, because Superintendent Katie Hawes declined to release a copy of the contract, saying the teachers’ union has not yet voted on it. That vote will come June 13, she said.

In a June 4 email sent in response to a Post request for a copy of the new contract, Hawes wrote that although the school board did vote that night to “ratify the contract,” it is “not fully drafted.”

“The board ratified the terms of the teacher contract tonight and teachers will vote on June 13. Then the final draft is published,” she wrote.

The contract is not considered fully executed until the union signs it. The public has no way of knowing the full details of what the school board voted on, and no way to know what changes, if any, might have been made to the document between the time of the school board vote and whenever a final draft is made available for public inspection. Hawes did not say there would be a second school board vote on this final draft, but, presumably, any edit to the approved contract agreed to by the school board June 4 would require a second vote.

Refusal to release the contract appears to be a potential violation of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. Just as a public body cannot conduct a vote behind closed doors, it also cannot vote in public on a document that remains secret. The act of considering the contract would seem to make it a public document under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

According Sigmund Schutz of Portland law firm Preti Flahrety, The draft contract as approved should have been made public at or before the vote. Only materials created “in preparation for negotiations” — not the draft contract approved by the board — would be confidential.

Schutz is an authority on Maine’s right-to-know laws. He is a former attorney for the Maine Press Association, who still represents many media clients, including the Portland Press Herald and a long-time board member of both the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and the New England First Amendment Coalition, as well as being co-author of the 2011 Maine Open Government Guide.

In a June 5 email to the Post, Schutz noted that Maine law does allow for records created “specifically and exclusively in preparation for negotiations” by a “public employer in collective bargaining with its employees and their designated representatives” to be exempt from disclosure.

“The purpose of this exemption was to allow the public employer to develop a bargaining strategy that would not be known by its employees in advance,” Schutz wrote. “Here the proposal voted on by the RSU 12 board presumably is the product of negotiations and is known to the teachers union, as it is going to be the same one put to a vote by the members of the union on June 13. The proposal is not ‘in preparation for negotiations’ and is therefore not exempt.”

“The fact that the teachers have not yet accepted the contract makes no difference in terms of whether it’s a public record,” Schutz said. “Draft contracts are public records, too. I agree that the public had every right to know what the school board voted on.”

Hawes has said that negotiations are not complete until the teachers’ union conducts its vote. However, in her presentation to the full school board, Maureen King, who led the board’s four-member negotiating team, said it had “reached an agreement” with the teachers’ union, indicating the end of negotiations.

The team that led negotiations with the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel Educators Association included King and Maeghan Lovejoy, both of Kennebunkport, Emily Kahn of Kennebunk and school board chairman MaryBeth Luce of Arundel. They were assisted, Hawes said, by attorney Campbell Badger of Drummond Woodsum.

During her presentation, King said boosting salaries had been a primary goal on the school board’s side of the table from the onset.

“When we met as a board in executive session back in January, we talked a lot about what we were looking for in this contract,” she said. “We talked a lot about how we really wanted to explore alternative salary scales and designs that would reduce the number of steps and the time that it takes to get to the top of the scale for teachers, to increase their base salaries in the beginning phase of their careers, and to eliminate current impediments that prevent experienced teachers from transferring to RSU 21.”

King said that in terms of hiking teacher pay, the school board accomplished everything it set out to do. The new contract increases starting pay for “teachers new to the profession,” — meaning those with no experience outside student teaching time required for state certification — from the current base pay of $36,771 to $41,055. That is an 11.7 percent difference.

Currently, a teacher in RSU 21 does not get above $41,000 until their fourth year, by which time they are paid $42,286.

In 2007, the Maine State Legislature set the minimum teacher salary statewide at $30,000. An effort last year to boost that minimum pay to $40,000 failed to garner support following a 7-6 split vote of the education and cultural affairs committee.

King also noted that the starting pay will increase in each year of the new contract. New, inexperienced teachers hired for the 2020-2021 school year will be paid $42,993 — a 16.9 percent increase over the current 2018 starting pay.

“So, that’s quite a bump we’ve given our beginning teachers,” King said.

King also noted that “every current teacher will get an average salary increase of 2.5 percent over the three years of the contract.”

King also referenced a potentially far greater boost across the board. Under the contracted salary scale, teachers get a pay raise for each year of experience. No performance review is required. The raise, or step increase, is given based on how many years total a person has logged as a teacher. Under the current contract, teacher pay topped out after 30 years at $70,239. That rate is boosted to $74,630 for teachers who hold a master’s degree and $79,019 for those who have earned a doctorate.

Under the new contract, teachers will reach the top of the scale after 19 years.

Without a copy of the contract to review, it is unclear if the 2.5 percent annual pay raise King mentioned is included in, or in addition to, the yearly step increase. However, based on the current contract, it appears teachers would get a step increase each year, while that step would be paid 2.5 percent more than it had been in the previous year. Currently, each step represents a roughly 3.5 percent increase in pay, while the pay for each individual step increased 2 percent per year over the three-year life of the contract, meaning a total 5.5 pay raise per annum, per teacher, if they teach again another year.

It also is not clear if teachers currently at Step 19 (earning $63,720) would get an immediate, automatic boost to the top salary of $70,239, given how the top pay rate is now to be achieved in 19 years instead of 30.

King could not be reached by deadline Wednesday morning for clarification.

The Post filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the current pay of every teacher in RSU 21 and the rate each would be paid under the new contract.

Also impacting future salary lines, the new contract eliminates a previous freeze for some teachers at 12 years of experience. Currently, in order to proceed to Step 13, a teacher needs to have served five years in RSU 21. That requirement has been excised from the new contract, King said.

“So, if you came into the district with 15 years experience, you were put on Step 12 and you had to stick there for a while,” King said, noting that this freeze was widely seen as an impediment to attracting to RSU 21 any teacher with a decade or more already under their belts.

King did not offer specifics, but said, “stipends will get an increase, of course, based on this new salary.”

Also of note, school nurses, now on their own step system, “will be placed on the teacher’s salary scale this year and then they will progress up from there,” King said.

Under the current contract, nurses start at $33,201 and top out at $60,623 after 19 years on the job.

According to King, heath insurance coverage for teachers will remain the same, with the district paying 82 percent of the Choice Plus plan, offered through Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Major Medical (Blue Alliance) under the Maine Education Association Trust Plan.

“We had a lot of discussions about that and we really feel that’s where we need to be right now,” King said, adding that, “all other provisions of this contract remain unchanged.”

The new contract passed without comment or question from school board members, apart from Matt Fadiman of Kennebunk, who chairs the board’s finance committee.

“I guess I’d just like to really point out that this contract seems to accomplish two very important, yet conflicting things,” Fadiman said. “One is a responsibility to the taxpayers to minimize costs as much as possible, but the second is to pay our teachers, who are our community members, appropriately and professionally, and this contract appears to do that better, and more forcefully and impactfully, than any contract I’ve seen in the last 10 years.

“It brings our starting salaries up and makes us competitive with other districts surrounding us, so teachers don’t have to decide, ‘I’d love to be in RSU 21, it’s an incredible district, I want to teach here, but guess what — I have to tell my family I have to take a cut in pay to come here.’ That didn’t seem fair at all,” Fadiman said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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