To the Editor:
In 1994-95, then-Mount Desert Island School District Superintendent Howard Colter organized a two-day negotiation training workshop for teacher and board negotiators. We worked with a trainer on the negotiation strategies of “getting to yes.” This entailed working collaboratively to identify issues and develop common solutions and goals that led to a contract that successfully met the original issues.
In 2005-06, then-Superintendent Rob Liebow created a study committee comprised of teacher and board negotiators to collaborate on developing a common contract. The 2006-2009 contract was not only the first island-wide contract, but it was the first time “getting to yes” techniques were used during negotiations.
The next two contracts also were negotiated using the same techniques. Not one of those three contracts were rejected by their respective communities at town meeting time.
An unintended and very positive benefit of these years of negotiations between different boards and teacher groups was a healthy relationship of trust and mutual respect. Teachers and board members grew in their understanding of the needs of the other and demonstrated respectful behaviors when opposing views were expressed.
Over the course of this year’s contract negotiations, that trust and mutual respect were damaged severely. Teacher negotiators went into the process negotiating in good faith. We were surprised by the board’s hard-line stances in general and specifically about health insurance benefits.
We were surprised because we had no warning that the negotiating strategy had been arbitrarily changed. During the negotiating process, the board gave no evidence (other than lip service) of valuing the contributions that we teachers make to our schools and communities. As a direct result of this negotiation process, teachers feel board members do not respect or value the work we do.
The faculty works hard. Several speakers at the start of the 2014-15 school year recognized that we were being asked to work harder this year. A prime example of that is the new standards work we have undertaken. Despite our continued efforts and professionalism, board negotiators approached these negotiations with a combative attitude of rigid determination to impose a particular outcome on the process, one that did not value our additional work.
While challenging negotiations can cause concern at any time, to have the impasse occur this year, with its demanding standards adoption process, magnified the insult. We are being asked to work harder than ever before, but we were met by negotiators that did not hear our concerns or seemingly honor our work with financial recognition.
AOS 91 teachers are professionals. We hold high standards for our students and ourselves, which is a key reason that our schools are excellent. However, the teachers who work so hard to make the school excellent feel underappreciated and under attack. Let us hope that the next contract negotiations go back to the “getting to yes” model and start to rebuild mutual trust and respect.
On behalf of Teacher Association members from Conners Emerson Elementary, Pemetic Elementary, Tremont Elementary, Trenton Elementary and MDI High schools