As many as 80 teachers from Regional School Unit/School Administrative District 40 crowded into a double classroom at Medomak Middle School, April 4, to hear the president of their collective bargaining unit address the district’s board of directors.
Medomak Valley High School mathematics teacher Paul Forest told the board teachers were initiating an action called “work-to-rule” in which employees complete their duties as defined by their most recent contract.
Forest said negotiations between the 176-member Medomak Valley Education Association and the district stalled Oct. 21, 2012. Subsequent mediation and further negotiations failed, he said.
“Our resource is time,” Forest said. “The time we put in above and beyond the school day.” He said union members would perform the work they have previously agreed upon.
He reminded board chairman Danny Jackson, of Waldoboro, of an invitation to meet the union’s executive committee sent to the full board.
“That invitation is still open,” Forest said,
“You got my response,” Jackson replied.
In his written request for a meeting Forest cited misinformation and rumors flying around and said union leadership wanted to meet within “an executive session with the Board for a general and casual discussion” in order to find common ground.
In a written response, Jackson pointed out executive sessions are bound by statute and the board cannot legally hold an executive session for “general and casual discussion.” As an alternative, Jackson said he and Superintendent Susan Pratt would be happy to meet with Forest at a mutually convenient time to discuss relevant issues.
Jackson asked those at the April 4 meeting if there was any other public comment. When none was forthcoming, he recognized board member Tod Brown of Warren, who read a statement in response to the union decision.
“We have been told by your negotiators that teachers are working as hard as they possibly can and cannot do any better,” Brown said. “Nevertheless, they have proposed that the board raise teacher salaries by 3 percent, plus step each year for three years.” He said union MVEA negotiators proposed postponing efforts to tie teacher evaluation to student performance until a successor contract is agreed upon.
“In short, what the MVEA wants is more money for status quo,” Brown said. “That is a hard sell to the public in these times.”
Brown reminded staff that four of the district’s seven schools do not meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act and two have been designated as continuous improvement plan schools.
He outlined the board’s offer to the union.
That offer included a 2.66 percent raise in the current year and a 2.5 percent raise in the contract’s second year. Voluntary incentives were also proposed, including $1000 per teacher in one of the RSU 40’s Continuous Improvement Priority Schools, if student performance at that school improves by at least 10 percent in both reading and mathematics. Other schools could also participate in that incentive.
In all cases, the incentive would only take effect after approval by 66 percent of the faculty at that school.
Other incentives included $500 for a teacher who completes six hours toward an advanced degree relevant to classroom instruction, $300 for a teacher who volunteers to facilitate staff development at the school or district level, $500 for a project-centered or community-centered learning incentive and a student work and assessment standards portfolio incentive of $200.
It was requested that MVEA participate in teacher effectiveness rating and incentive planning during the upcoming year, leading to recommendations to the board by December 19.
“What has been missing on the part of MVEA, apparently, is a willingness to change and to try to do something different,” Brown said.
He cited improvements at the Miller School as evidence that teaching can be improved in the district. In 2010 and 2011, only 31 and 35 percent of students, respectively, achieved the standard for reading in the New England Common Assessment Program standardized tests. Last year, 60 percent of Miller students reached the standard.
Following Brown’s statement, Forest asked if he could comment on the proposal.
“Public session is closed,” Jackson said.
Forest later offered the response he would have given at the meeting.
“Tod’s opening statement ‘the teachers said they can not do any better’ was a gross misrepresentation,” Forest said. “We actually said ‘we can not improve student achievement when the board is continually working against us’ (in terms of staff cuts, budget freezes, frequent curriculum changes, schedule disruptions, etc.).”
Forest said the change in scores at Miller represented “a natural fluctuation in abilities, not even remotely associated to individual student growth from one year to the next, and calls into question any reliance on student test scores and the board’s willingness to fairly apply them to teacher evaluations and salaries.”
He said the linking of incentives to votes by teachers in individual schools “is in direct violation of our collective bargaining agreement and state collective bargaining laws, yet the board clings to it like a piece of prized jewelry.”
In regard to the proposed meeting between MVEA’s executive committee and the board, Forest said Jackson claimed such a meeting would violate state statute.
“He did not say which statute, and I have yet to locate it,” Forest said. “My intention was, at the very least, to inform the board of general concerns throughout the district, and to clear the air of general misconceptions.”
“I was disappointed, but not surprised,” Forest said of the conduct of the April 4 board meeting. “In the past, board members have asked permission to respond to public comments, and I have seen such requests denied due to the fact that the time is set aside for public input. Tod Brown was allowed to use this time to read a prepared statement, and further comments were immediately disallowed. I hope this is not indicative of the regard the board has for the employees of RSU #40, or for other members of the public.”
Pratt said the proposals outlined in Brown’s statement were part of previous discussions with the MVEA. She said the proper forum for negotiations are the regular negotiation meetings that have been held between the board’s negotiation team and MVEA negotiators since January, 2012.
She said the public portion of the meeting ended when no one asked to speak after Forest.
“The Board Chair can recognize any board member to speak during any point in the agenda,” Pratt said. “Mr. Brown requested to speak during the regular section of the agenda.”
The next meeting of the Regional School Unit/School Administrative District 40 Board of Directors will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11 at Medomak Middle School. That meeting will be preceded by a meeting of the Mid-Coast School of Technology (Region 8) board at MMS at 6 p.m.
For more information call the district’s Central Office at 785-2277.