BAR HARBOR — Ingrid Kachmar is the third member of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System board to resign this fall as a result of the contentious and fraught negotiations between the board and the teachers union for a new three-year contract for teachers.
The board’s lead negotiator, Kristi Losquadro of Bar Harbor, resigned two months ago. Todd Graham of Mount Desert resigned three weeks ago.
Kachmar has served 13 years on the Southwest Harbor School Committee, the MDI High School board – including five years as chair – and the school system board.
“I feel I can no longer do the job I was elected to do,” she said in her resignation letter. “As a board member, I worked hard on behalf of our schools, communities, staff and students to ensure we have a top-performing school district and that the staff who work in that district felt supported and valued.”
Kachmar was a member of the school board’s negotiating team in contract negotiations with the teachers union six years ago, three years ago and again this year.
“Over the last two rounds of contract negotiations, I have seen a shift away from open communication between all negotiators during the bargaining sessions,” she wrote. “The days of being able to openly discuss a topic no longer exist because the teachers have chosen to have one speaker who only responds to questions with vague, memorized responses.”
Kachmar told the Islander on Tuesday, “We used to sit at a table and have substantive conversations about the concerns of the teachers here in our district. I have seen over time that the state union [Maine Education Association] representatives have exerted more influence in terms of what the topics are that are being discussed, and they aren’t necessarily issues here in our schools. The teachers’ negotiators are being told how to act and what to say, so it’s no longer a conversation between community members who are teachers and school board members.”
Daniel Horning, a teacher at Tremont Consolidated School and the lead negotiator for the teachers union, did not respond to a request for comment by the deadline for this week’s Islander.
In September, the teachers union filed a “prohibited practice” complaint against the school board with the Maine Labor Relations Board (MLRB). The school board then filed a counter complaint. Each side denies the other’s allegations. A hearing before the MLRB has not yet been scheduled.
Kachmar said she was resigning from the school board because of the teachers union’s complaint.
“The complaint is a complete misrepresentation of the facts of our meetings, is malicious in its content and maligns the school board negotiators,” she said. “I take this complaint personally and I can no longer devote countless hours to support (the union’s negotiating method) that doesn’t recognize the lasting damage this type of behavior can have on our district.”
The two sides in the contract negotiations agree that the school system’s teachers deserve higher pay. The main difference is that teachers union wants a large increase now, while the school board wants to raise salaries more gradually to avoid a big, one-time boost in property taxes, which are the main source of school funding.
“School board members walk a fine line between our schools and communities, advocating for the most resources they can get for our schools while not pushing our communities too far and, thereby, losing support for our schools,” Kachmar said.
Her letter of resignation was read at the school system board meeting Monday night. A number of teachers attended the meeting, and a few spoke during the public comment period.
“Teaching is among the most noble professions,” said Kristen Braun, a teacher at Trenton Elementary School. “We’re highly trained individuals; many of us have advanced degrees.
“In addition to that, it’s a really tough job. Not just anyone can step in and do what we do. And I’ve found, especially during the pandemic, that there is a lot of verbal praise for what teachers do because everyone seems to agree our work is so important.
“Important work should receive praise, but we should also be receiving appropriate financial compensation for that important work,” Braun said. “By and large, the area we serve is economically sound, and it’s wrong to deny teachers just compensation, considering the important service we provide. We are here fighting for what is rightly ours.”
Kachmar said Tuesday, “I see posters in cars that say, ‘Support Teachers,’ and I think, ‘Give me a poster; I’ll put it in my car.’
“I support teachers. I wouldn’t have done this for as long as I have if I didn’t support teachers.”
Horning, the teachers union’s lead negotiator, read a statement at Monday’s school board meeting.
“Bargaining unit members have been working under very difficult conditions in the midst of this pandemic,” he said. “It is only right that they be provided a contract that is commensurate with the value and importance of that work.”