BAR HARBOR — More than 60 Mount Desert Island Regional School System teachers and a few parents of students attended the school board’s meeting Monday night to press their call for a “fair and competitive” contract.
Representatives of the teachers union and school board have been trying to negotiate a new three-year contract since last September. On July 9, they held their first meeting with a professional mediator who is trying to help them break an impasse.
The teachers say their salaries and benefits are less generous than those enjoyed by teachers in comparable school districts around the state. They cite that as a big reason there are not nearly as many applicants for vacant teaching positions here as there used to be.
Jackie Wheaton, a teacher at Mount Desert Elementary School, told the school board she has served on a number of teacher applicant interview committees over the years.
“We used to wade through countless applications, and now we have a handful to pick from,” she said.
“Please listen to those of us who work in our schools. Listen to the parents of our students and the community members who care about the quality of the education of our students. Help to make teaching an attractive career.”
MaryAnne Young, a teacher at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, said she, too, has seen a dramatic drop in the number of applicants for teaching jobs.
“Many who do secure teaching positions are not staying,” she said.
“I’m not shy about advocating for my students. For some reason, it’s much harder to advocate for myself, my colleagues and my profession. But it is important for me to do my part to ensure the quality of education will continue to be the absolute best that we can provide for our children.”
Karen Sharpe, a teacher at Mount Desert Elementary, said that, compared to other school districts, “administrators’ salaries here are in way better shape than teachers’ salaries.”
“That just makes me a little heartsick,” she continued. “Why not teachers?”
Tracy Miller, a Mount Desert parent, told the school board she fears that if a contract agreement isn’t reached, “our teachers will be back in the fall feeling undervalued.”
She said that, while state law prevents teachers from going on strike, they could choose to do only the bare minimum to fulfill the terms of their employment.
“Our children’s quality of education, including sports and extra curricular activities, will suffer. And I will 100 percent support teachers in that process.”
Another Mount Desert parent, Brian Henkel, said he understands the argument that the school board needs to be fiscally responsible.
“But what is far more important here is social responsibility,” he said. “You need to be paying appropriately in order to have the people here who can live here, work here and are going to put in the time and effort.”
Tremont parent Kerry Hayes agreed. She said increasing teacher pay would have only a minimal impact on most people’s tax bills.
“I, for one, would be happy to have my taxes go up $25 to $100 if it means supporting all these wonderful people,” she said.
School system board Chairwoman Heather Jones began the meeting by saying that, while board members might want to respond to teachers’ comments and questions, the two sides in the negotiations had agreed not to speak publicly about the status of the talks or the specific issues being discussed.
“I’m sorry if it seems that we’re not engaging and that we are intentionally ignoring you,” she said. “I heard very clearly what you said [at the previous board meeting] and I think everybody else here on the board did.
“I think just about everybody on this school board has or has had a child in this [school] system, and they know first-hand the love that you have not only for the students, but the love that you have for your profession and the schools.”
She said the school board wants to settle a fair contract with the teachers. The challenge, of course, is for the two sides to agree on what is fair.
Following the comments from teachers and parents, the school board went into executive session and spent about 90 minutes discussing the contract negotiations. They took no action and issued no statement on the talks following the executive session.