BAR HARBOR — After 14 months of difficult negotiations, the schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) and their teachers have ratified new three-year contracts.
The collective bargaining agreements, which do not apply to the outer island schools, go into effect Sept. 1.
The base pay for starting elementary school teachers in Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Trenton and at MDI High School will go up $727 a year for each year of the contract. For the first year, that represents an increase of 2.13 percent over the current base salary of $34,055.
“However, that isn’t the total increase for most of the teachers,” said MDIRSS business manager Nancy Thurlow. “Those at the top receive only the increase to the base.”
For example, someone entering his or her fifth year in teaching will see a salary increase of $862.
The salary goes up for every year that someone has taught. Those with advanced degrees also receive more pay.
For someone who has taught for 25 years and holds two masters degrees or a doctorate, their salary next year will be $64,080.
The teachers association at Mount Desert Elementary School negotiated their own contract with the Mount Desert school committee. Under that agreement, the base salary for new teachers in the first year will be $34,905, an increase of $850 or 2.49 percent.
As for health insurance, each school in the district currently pays 85 percent of the cost for “single, two-adult, family or adult-with-child(ren)” plans, with the employee picking up 15 percent.
Prior to the start of negotiations last year, some members of the school committees said that level of funding on the part of the schools was unsustainable.
Under the new contract for all teachers except those at Mount Desert Elementary, the schools’ share of health insurance costs will drop to 83 percent for the first two years of the contract and 82 percent for the third year.
In the first year of the Mount Desert Elementary contract, the school will pay 90 percent of insurance premiums for teachers who choose “single” coverage and 83 percent for two-adult, family or adult-with-child(ren) plans.
Those percentages will hold for the second and third years of the contract, except that the school will pay only 80 percent of the cost for a two-adult or family plan.
Teachers at each of the schools approved the new contracts in voting last week. The school committees each took less than a minute to ratify the contracts in special meetings Monday evening.
Despite having agreed to the new contract, more than a few teachers apparently are not happy with it.
At the start of the MDIRSS board meeting Monday night, Beth Dilley, who is president of the high school teachers association, read a letter that she said had been signed by several dozen teachers in the system. The letter expresses bitterness over a perceived lack of respect for teachers on the part of the school committees’ contract negotiating team.
“Teacher negotiators went into the process negotiating in good faith, and we were surprised by the board’s hard-line stances in general and specifically about health insurance benefits,” the letter states.
“The board gave no evidence (other than lip service) of valuing the contributions that we teachers make to our schools and communities.”
The letter charges that the school committee negotiators approached the process with “a combative attitude of rigid determination to impose a particular outcome … .”
“We are being asked to work harder than ever before,” the teachers’ letter continues, “but we were met with a negotiations board that did not hear our concerns or, seemingly, honor our work with financial recognition.”
As a result, the letter states, teachers feel “under-appreciated and under attack.”
Amanda Dyer, president of the teachers association at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, told the MDIRSS board that the tradition of going into contract negotiations “in an attitude of respect and building on mutual trust was not followed this time.”
“The point isn’t the financial outcome or the benefits of health insurance,” she said, but rather, the need to change the negotiating process so that teachers feel valued and respected and their morale can be built back up. She said teacher morale “has been lower than I have seen in 25 years of working here.”
Skip Strong, chairman of the MDIRSS board, lead the negotiating team for the school committees in contract talks with the teachers.
“It was neither my intent nor anyone on the board’s intent to show any disrespect for teachers or the work that you do,” he told Dilley, Dyer and more than a dozen other teachers who attended the board meeting Monday night.
“I believe both sides moved and compromised, but it was a challenging situation.”
Strong said the goal of the school committees was not to make the teachers feel underappreciated.
“Our goal has always been to figure out how we can get the most for the teachers and stay within what we believe is our fiscal responsibility to the towns,” he said.