THORNDIKE, Maine — After more than a year of negotiations, the SAD 3 administration and teachers are one step closer to signing a contract for the 2009-10 school year after the local teachers association tentatively ratified it earlier this week.
The news comes as a relief to many involved in the lengthy process, said Glenn Couturier of Montville, chairman of the school board.
“I’m in hopes that the board is going to vote it in also,” he said.
He and SAD 3 Superintendent Joseph Mattos attributed the contract impasse to the bad economy.
Mattos said Friday that after starting negotiations back in December 2008, teachers and the administration couldn’t find common ground regarding salary and benefits.
“It’s the money issue, and that’s very difficult,” said Mattos, who is resigning from his post on June 30. “Sometimes people equate the more money you get with the more valuable your work. But the economic times sometimes dictate your ability to pay. We do value the teachers. We do value their work. It’s hard work.”
The school district has 135 teachers in eight schools plus adult education who have been working without a contract since July 1, 2009.
A representative of the teachers union declined this week to comment on the situation until after the school board votes on the contract March 8.
According to Mattos, after teachers voted in August not to accept a proposed contract, the district brought in a professional mediator to help find common ground. The mediator wasn’t able to meet with the group until December, but after that the discussions progressed “very, very well,” he said.
“It wasn’t win-lose,” he said. “In the end, I think everybody believed everything was fair.”
A representative from the Maine Teachers Association, a high school teacher, a middle school teacher, two elementary teachers, Mattos, the district’s business manager, the human resources director and two representatives from the school board all took part in the negotiations, Mattos said.
When the matter went into mediation, three different school board members participated.
“There were a lot of things to discuss,” Mattos said.
Issues debated included clarifying policies around sick leave and personal days and discussing “reduction in force,” he said, meaning they had to determine a process to reduce staffing in case of budget cuts.
“That was a big one,” Mattos said.
The school is struggling with an $840,000 decrease in state revenue from last year, and the shortfall likely will be greater after taking increased fuel or salary costs into consideration, he said.
“I want to make sure the teachers are valued and paid at a fair rate,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve got to balance a budget that the community can afford.”
SAD 3 is made up of the Waldo County towns of Unity, Troy, Thorndike, Jackson, Brooks, Knox, Freedom, Montville, Waldo, Morrill and Liberty.