HAMPDEN, Maine — There has been no official deal yet, but after 14 meetings and 11 months of negotiations, members of the SAD 22 school board and the Tri-22 Teachers’ Association are poised to agree on a groundbreaking new contract.
“We could wind things up as early as tomorrow night,” said Superintendent Rick Lyons. “You’re seeing throughout the country people talking about this, but when it gets down to discussion, it’s pretty difficult to enact sometimes, so yes, this is a pretty significant change of protocol.”
The new contract is a potentially historic agreement that institutes a new, performance-based evaluation system governing pay and raises, and would replace a long-practiced system in which raises were given based solely on years of service in the district.
“This is really about our belief that it’s time to change the way we compensate our teachers,” said Kelly Bickmore, SAD 22 school board chairwoman. “What we’re looking for is more flexibility in hiring, with our belief that hiring and raises should be based on performance and not just teaching time, and we value our teachers and their input in the process.”
Hampden would be one of the first schools in the state switching fully to a teacher salary system based on student performance and teacher evaluation.
David Connerty Marin, Maine Department of Education director of communications, said 18 schools in five districts have been working since last year with federal teacher incentive grant funds to develop guidelines for teacher evaluations and performance-based pay systems.
“About two weeks ago, the Department of Education got another federal grant to work with another 17 schools in six districts to develop additional models,” said Connerty Marin, who added that the new $25 million federal grant will pay for training costs and performance pay raises.
Those six new districts include Bangor, Millinocket, Newport, Fort Fairfield, Gardiner and Poland. The districts already using funding to develop systems are Van Buren, Lewiston, Wiscasset, North Anson and Cornish.
“We’ve talked to the MEA [Maine Education Association] and the other school districts that are using some form of performance-based pay as our negotiations have continued,” said Nancy Simpson, co-president of the MEA’s Tri-22 Teachers’ Association.
Simpson is also a math teacher at Reeds Brook Middle School in her 37th year of teaching.
“I would just say it’s a very complex issue to discuss and I think it’ll be — should we agree on some component to our pay scale — a very difficult and complicated process to administer, but I am optimistic and hopefully we’ll have things wrapped up this week,” she added.
Lyons said the new contract, which will likely run for a three-year term, has three main components left to make final:
• Language dealing with teachers and absentee rates, specifically those who miss more than 51 of the 184 “contract” class days per year.
• The terms and conditions for a performance-based scale in which teachers are evaluated for their subsequent year’s compensation.
• Intensive assistance for underperforming teachers. This would involve the board putting teachers with serious performance concerns on an “action plan” to address their weaknesses.
Bickmore emphasized that the union and 13-member board governing the school system for Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh are still in the negotiating process and no contract has been signed.
“We’re going back and forth around some wording, which is important for any official contract,” Bickmore said. “We’re meeting again [Tuesday] night on the three remaining issues we have. I’d say, if all goes well, we’re within one or two meetings of finishing this up.”
Under the past and current system, SAD 22 teachers earn automatic 3 percent raises per year after their third in the system. This continues annually through their 16th year of service. After that, raises are awarded again only during years 20 and 25.
“In our current pool of 210 teachers, about half are not eligible for any type of raise,” said Bickmore. “New teachers aren’t even eligible for a raise in their first three years under the current system.”
Bickmore said there may be an opt-out option and SAD 22 could possibly employ a dual salary system.
“There’s a sense of rewarding teachers, even new ones, for their skill set,” she added. “So we’re hopeful teachers coming in will recognize the ability to increase their earning potential based on their performance.”
Another state-mandated change requires teacher evaluations annually, rather than once every three years. The proposed new evaluation system would use four rankings: “exemplary, satisfactory, needs improvement and unsatisfactory”, with a different set of indicators under each ranking.
“We believe we have teachers who would fall in the range of satisfactory to exemplary and very few would fall off or become ineligible for raises under this proposed system,” Bickmore said. “The teachers’ group is concerned that the ranking system involves too much subjectivity, so we’re working to refine it to more clearly identify each performance point.”
SAD 22 teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.
Simpson said negotiations typically take a long time before an agreement is reached, but this round has taken longer.
“We’ve had some fairly long philosophical conversations about some significant issues,” she said. “That’s why we’ve spent so much time on this.”