What’s fair

We on Mount Desert Island are fortunate to have excellent public schools. They are great schools because of students who challenge and inspire one another, because of outstanding and dedicated teachers, staff and administrators and because of the thriving, diverse communities the schools serve.

Residents of island towns are invested in their public schools. Almost all the children growing up here attend them. That strong connection makes it particularly wrenching when labor negotiations for teachers break down, as they have this year.

Politicians like to stump on “putting students first,” but the reality is that everyone in the school system does that every day, to the best of their abilities. Both the volunteers who represent residents on school boards and the professionals who teach are there because they have students’ best interests at heart.

The local and state teachers associations do a good job advocating for their members. But the school boards do not have a public relations team.

Several dozen teachers marched in the Fourth of July parade in Bar Harbor, some of them carrying signs reading “Fair contracts attract and retain great teachers” and “We teach here. Pay us enough to live here.”

Board members were put in the very difficult position of nodding uncomfortably when the teachers’ parade float went by. Under the terms of the contract negotiations, members of the school board are not allowed to give their side of the story.

These school boards also must present a budget that selectmen, town councils and town meetings will approve. That nearly didn’t happen in Trenton this year.

As the negotiations continue, both sides should be cognizant of the rules of the game, seek better understanding of the forces at work and avoid scapegoating.

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