BAR HARBOR — In a filing Monday with the Maine Labor Relations Board, the Mount Desert Island Regional School System board denied allegations in a “prohibited practice complaint” filed Sept. 14 by the MDI Education Association, the teachers’ union, in connection with negotiations for a new three-year teachers’ contract.
The school board, through its attorney, also filed a counter complaint against the union, accusing it of interfering with the board’s selection of its contract negotiators and refusing to bargain in good faith. The union has until Oct. 25 to respond.
The two sides differ on a number of points regarding the scheduling of negotiating sessions and “who said what” during some of those sessions. For example, the union stated in its complaint: “In the winter of 2021, the parties began negotiations for a successor agreement” to the one that expired Aug. 31 of this year.
In its response, the school board denied that claim, saying that in October 2020, the board’s lead negotiators proposed a one-year extension of the existing teachers’ contract with salary increases. The board claimed its negotiators did not hear back from the union until December 2020, “and then those negotiators were not available to meet until February 2021.”
In a bargaining session on May 7, the union proposed that the schools use “carryover” funds – money budgeted but not spent in the previous year – to pay for the first year of teacher salary increases. According to the union’s complaint to the Labor Relations Board, the school board’s lead negotiator, Kristi Losquadro, said: “It is not possible to move carryover money, and money that was not in the budget was not accessible” for teacher salaries.
In its response, the school board said it “could have used budgeted amounts to pay for the Association’s proposed salary increases, but that would have resulted in layoffs or cuts to student services, which it preferred to avoid.”
The school board said Nancy Thurlow, the school system’s finance manager, attended the next bargaining session, on June 4, and explained how carryover funds could and could not be used.
The teachers’ union said in its complaint that, at that June 4 meeting, “Losquadro stated that money that is not in a budget is not accessible once it is voted on at a town meeting; therefore, the employer could not possibly meet or consider the Association’s proposal.”
The school board and teachers’ union accounts of the next meeting, on July 6, tell different stories. The union, whose lead negotiator is Daniel Horning, said it “presented counter proposals with movement on health insurance. The employer responded by stating it was filing for mediation, and…since they believed the parties were very far apart, they couldn’t conduct negotiations without the help of a professional.”
The school board said in its account of the July 6 meeting, “Mr. Horning reiterated his gross misunderstanding about the legally allowable usage of carryover funds…(The school board) admits that its negotiators were frustrated by the Association’s intransigence about carryover funds and salaries…”
The union said in its complaint that, when the two sides met next, on Sept. 8, “The Association submitted a counter proposal on (one element of the contract) and explained the changes. Losquadro and members of the employer bargaining team responded by raising their voices and stating that the Association proposal was ridiculous and not a real proposal, and accused the Association of gamesmanship.”
The union also said in its complaint that, since Sept. 1, the school system has made changes in working conditions “without giving the Association the opportunity to meet and confer or bargain.”
“These changes include: changes to the school day that have triggered 30 minutes or more that teachers are responsible for students, and shifting release time of students at the end of the school day.”
In doing so, the complaint said, the school system has violated the state’s collective bargaining law.
In its response, the school board denied that charge.
Neil Daly, executive director of the Maine Labor Relations Board, said in an email to the Islander on Tuesday that, once the teachers’ union has responded to the school board’s counter complaint, he will review the union’s original complaint and the school board’s counter complaint “to determine whether they contain actionable claims under Maine’s labor relations laws.”
“If they do, we will schedule a pre-hearing conference and then the hearing itself before the full Maine Labor Relations Board,” Daly said. “If either the complaint or counter complaint fails to allege any actionable claim, the complainant will have the right to amend the complaint. If after amendment, either complaint fails to allege an actionable claim, I will dismiss it, subject to appeal to the Board.”