BAR HARBOR — About 30 teachers, most of them wearing badges reading “Great Teachers Make Great Schools,” attended the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) board meeting Monday night to show support for their union in ongoing contract negotiations with a school board panel.
Several teachers spoke during the meeting’s public comment periods.
Patty Galeaz, a second-grade teacher at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, read a statement in which she referred to the death of 19-year-old Mikaela Conley, whose body was found in the woods near the school’s playground June 2.
“These teachers sitting here tonight, many of us, just came through a week of horror,” she said. “As you know, we lost a really beautiful person in our community.
“I just want you to imagine being that person who is having the conversations with children about what happened, the one to share the news because students had questions and concerns, not only about Mikaela and her siblings, but about their own safety at school. These teachers had to do that.
“They don’t teach you about these conversations when you go to school preparing to become a teacher,” Galeaz said. “They don’t tell you what you should say to a roomful of frightened, confused kids. But we do it anyway. And sadly, we’ve had to have many similar conversations in the past regarding the loss of parents and students.”
Galeaz said she was proud of her fellow teachers for supporting and loving their students.
“In case you had any doubt, we are the ones who are holding our schools together,” she told the school board.
“This isn’t about recognition for us and what we do. It’s about acknowledging what we do. And it’s about my gratitude for [the teachers at the meeting], who do this every day because we are passionate about our kids.”
Michelle Lear, the Title 1 reading teacher at Tremont Consolidated School, told the school board that when she applied for a job as a kindergarten teacher at Conners Emerson seven years ago, there were 85 other applicants.
“This year, they’ve had a first-grade opening, and there were three people who applied,” she said. “I think that’s really powerful and really says a lot of what we’re talking about [in seeking a more generous contract].”
The teachers’ current three-year contract ends Aug. 31.
Representatives of the teachers and the school board have been meeting since September to try to find agreement on a new contract. But having reached an impasse, the two sides have agreed to bring in a professional mediator.
Aside from thanking the teachers for their comments and questions at Monday’s school board meeting, board members for the most part did not respond to them.
“We can’t engage in dialogue with them on things they were asking us about because we are still in negotiations,” board Chair Heather Jones said to the Islander on Tuesday.
The negotiating teams for both the school board and the teachers agreed early on not to speak publicly about the status of the negotiations.