READFIELD — About 40 teachers in Regional School Unit 38 attended Wednesday’s night’s school board meeting to call attention to the fact they are entering their second year working without a contract.

Mediation hasn’t brought a solution, and the teachers said Wednesday they want negotiations to start again.

“We are here to inform you about our concerns regarding staff morale, the apparent disrespect and devaluing of our teaching profession, and most of all, the eroding relationship between the board and the staff,” said Patricia Morris, Maranacook Area Staff Association president, reading from a statement to the board.

Many of the teachers wore yellow school T-shirts or yellow buttons that said, “It’s time.” The teachers stood when Morris read her statement and gave her sustained applause when she finished.

RSU 38 teachers are working under the terms of five contracts that predate the formation of the RSU in 2009, and the association and school board are trying to negotiate a single contract for about 110 teachers at six schools. The last of the old contracts expired in summer 2011.

Negotiations began almost two years ago and went well at first, Morris said. The two sides have come to a tentative agreement about salaries and health insurance.

Since the composition of the board’s negotiating team changed about a year ago, Morris said, the process seems to be more focused on politics and teacher-bashing.

“I think there’s a climate of disrespect generally for the teaching profession right now,” Morris said after the school board meeting. “However, we feel that the board’s proposals are demeaning and disrespectful and unworthy even of consideration because we don’t feel we’re being treated as professionals.”

The board’s latest proposal would, for example, bar teachers from leaving campus during duty-free lunch periods, even though high school juniors and seniors can leave. In addition, teachers would have to pay the cost of a substitute when taking certain types of leaves of absence, Morris said.

Superintendent Donna Wolfrom confirmed that negotiators have reached an agreement about salaries and insurance, though the agreement has not been brought to the full board or association members.

The remaining disputes relate to the use of language, such as the definition of a “dire emergency” in the context of taking personal leave before or after a holiday, Wolfrom said.

“It’s really important to both sides to get the language right,” she said.

After Morris read her statement, Board Chairwoman Samantha Horn Olsen read one on behalf of the board.

Olsen said that the board has “a deep respect and appreciation” for the district’s teachers and acknowledged that the drawn-out negotiations are difficult for the teachers.

Olsen said the board wants a contract that is fiscally responsible and respects teachers’ professional needs.

“The RSU 38 school board supports the work of its negotiating team and believes that this team is working for the benefit of the community and our students,” Olsen said.

Morris said the association leadership would be willing to reopen negotiations with the full board or with a new negotiating team of active board members, because the current negotiators have not been able to reach a solution.

In the meantime, the association plans to request fact-finding, in which representatives of the union, the board and the Maine Labor Relations Board recommend an agreement for the parties.

Wolfrom said district leaders hope they and the association can resolve their disputes soon.

“It adds one thing to the many things that we have to do,” she said. “And we’d really rather put all our focus on educating our students. So we’re hoping that this is finished very quickly, as soon as possible.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

 

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