June 22, 2018
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Deer Isle-Stonington school panel OKs groundbreaking support staff contract

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

Agreement eliminates seniority in favor of merit system

DEER ISLE, Maine — The Deer Isle-Stonington school committee on Monday approved a negotiated merit pay agreement  with the district support staff  that could have implications for future negotiations locally and around the state.

The agreement with the Deer Isle-Stonington Education Support Personnel Association affects custodians, cooks, administrative assistants, secretaries, bookkeepers and educational technicians in the district. It eliminates the former “step system” that guaranteed salary increases based on years of service and institutes a merit pay system in which raises beyond a cost of living increase are based on performance.

In a prepared statement Monday, Andrew Vaughn, the school committee’s representative on the negotiating team, said the agreement runs counter to the current, often bitter struggles over collective bargaining.

“While the national news is full of accounts of conflicts and disagreements involving collective bargaining between school employees and school committees, I am pleased that we have a different story in CSD 13,” Vaughan said.

He said the agreement is good for both sides because it puts the children first, noting that representatives from both the committee and the Deer Isle-Stonington Education Support Personnel Association agreed to include a statement to that effect in the agreement.

That statement affirms, “The education of the Deer Isle-Stonington CSD 13 students is the primary objective that guides this agreement.”

“With this shared commitment in mind,” Vaughan said, “Superintendent [Robert] Webster helped us draft an agreement that includes important changes in the sections on position elimination, binding arbitration and compensation.”

A representative from the support staff association could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The new agreement eliminates the standard step system in which employees’ salaries increase as they move up the salary steps which increase based on years of service. Instead, each employee covered under the agreement will receive an annual 1.5 percent cost of living increase during the next three years of the agreement.

In addition, each employee will be eligible to earn a performance increase ranging from 0 to 2 percent, based on written evaluations from the principal and approved by the superintendent.

The agreement also includes performance as a factor in deciding which employee will be laid off if a position is eliminated and does away with the former “last hired-first fired” method. It states that the decision will be based on “qualifications, written evaluations, other employment history and training.” If all four conditions are equal, then the most recently employed person in that job classification will be laid off.

“This agreement gives the board appropriate control over who it wants employed at the schools,’’ Superintendent Webster said Tuesday. “If you want to improve an organization, one of the important parts of that is making decisions about what is best for the students and who can do the best job of that, whether it’s working as an ed tech, cooking in the kitchen or emptying the waste baskets.’’

The new agreement also eliminates binding arbitration in grievance cases and limits the role of an arbitrator. It states that an arbitrator could not overturn a decision by the school committee “as long as there is evidence that a reasonable and prudent person could have reached the decision that was reached by the committee.”

The agreement could have implications for future contract negotiations in the district and beyond, Webster said.

The CSD school committee now is involved in negotiations with the association representing teachers in the district. Webster did not indicate whether elements of the support staff agreement were being discussed in those contract talks.

He did say that often in negotiations, the argument is that “no one else is doing it, why should we?”

“This provides a fact — that a group of employees is willing to make the best interests of the students the highest priority,’’ he said. “I think it helps to encourage others to agree to similar priorities if they know they’re not the only ones doing it.”

A representative from the teachers’ association could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The terms of the support staff agreement go into effect on Sept. 1.

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