BAR HARBOR — Educational technicians – commonly known as ed techs – at Mount Desert Island High School and three of the district’s elementary schools are asking for higher pay in contract talks with a committee of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System board.
Board Chair Jessica Stewart said at last week’s board meeting that the board has offered the ed techs a salary increase of 18.2 percent over three years.
“The board recognizes the hard and essential work that ed techs do within the district, and we are committed to expediently reaching a fair contract with them,” Stewart said.
In the past, all the schools followed the lead of Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor in setting salaries for ed techs and other support staff such as cooks and custodians.
Last year, the ed techs at the high school and the elementary schools in Tremont, Trenton and Southwest Harbor joined together to negotiate salaries and benefits with the school system board. The bargaining unit in Southwest Harbor also includes custodians and bus drivers.
The ed techs at Mount Desert Elementary chose not to join the larger bargaining unit. Ed techs at Conners Emerson have their own bargaining unit, which is negotiating with the Bar Harbor school committee.
At the start of last week’s school system board meeting, the board heard from ed techs, teachers and parents who advocated for higher salaries for ed techs.
“We’re not asking for a luxurious lifestyle,” said Carrie Joyce, who is in her fifth year as an ed tech at the high school. “ I just want a stable place to live, and I want to be able to do important things like go to the dentist.”
Joyce said she makes $19.93 an hour but noted that ed techs aren’t paid for 40 hours a week or when school is out in the summer. She said her gross income from her ed tech job in 2020 was just over $20,000.
“There’s no way to get by on that, especially around here,” Joyce told the school board. “I work part-time as a custodian here at MDI High just to help make ends meet. (During) school vacations, I get my groceries at the Bar Harbor Food Pantry.”
She said she doesn’t think a lot of people are aware of all that ed techs do.
“We are the first line of support for the most vulnerable children in our community,” she said. “I have done toileting, feeding, showering, direct instruction in all subjects…I have covered classrooms for absent teachers. I provide emotional support. I write lesson plans.
“I’ve gone home with bruises from being kicked and punched. I’ve been urinated on and vomited on. And I’ve been in some scary situations where the police had to be called.
“And even in light of all that, I still keep coming every day because I love my job.”
Joyce said people sometimes ask her why she doesn’t get another job.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘What about the students?’ The kids I work with need consistency, stability and people who know their individual needs. A revolving door of ed techs is detrimental to them.”
Dawn Burgess, who teaches math and is the gifted and talented specialist at the high school, told the school board, “I think it’s criminal that we don’t pay (ed techs) enough to be able to get their groceries during our unpaid breaks.
“It would not be possible to teach and offer the quality of education we offer to our students if it weren’t for all of the ed techs that come in our classrooms and support students individually.”
Thaya Huff, the mother of a high school junior, told the school board, “Before we started the transition to this school system, we were told she would not be able to be integrated into regular classrooms; she would not be able to get a high school diploma; there was no way she would be able to go on to college.
“Since she started here, she has, from day one, been able to be integrated into classrooms. She will definitely get a high school diploma, and college is definitely on the horizon.”
Huff said these “life altering” changes were “because of the help of the ed techs.”
“They have gone above and beyond, within the classroom and outside the classroom. They have supported her.”
Huff urged the school board to think about “maintaining the excellent support that you currently have and also to support the ed techs the way that they support our children.”
Following the board meeting, Stewart said the board very much appreciated the “candid and clear public comments” made by the ed techs and those who support them.