UNION, Maine — The nearly 200 teachers in Regional School Unit 40 will stop volunteering their time as a way to show the school board the faculty’s displeasure that it has worked almost an entire year without a new contract.
Paul Forest, president of the Medomak Valley Education Association, said Wednesday he would be making a statement to the board at its Thursday night meeting, announcing that association members would begin working to rule, meaning they would not do anything beyond what is in the contract.
He said that staff in each building would determine what that would mean but that teachers could decide for instance not to attend the Medomak Valley High School graduation in June.
The action is being taken because the teachers have been without a new contract since it expired in August, he said. He said negotiations began a year and a half ago.
One sore spot for faculty is the decision by the district not to award step pay increases that are part of the past contract. He said in the years he has been in the district, step raises were given even when a contract had expired.
RSU 40 Superintendent Susan Pratt confirmed that teachers’ pay was frozen with no step raises granted. Pratt said different districts deal with step raises differently when a contract has expired.
Forest said the superintendent and other central office administrators received 2.5 percent raises this year.
There are 176 members of the teachers association. RSU 40 covers Union, Warren, Waldoboro, Friendship and Washington.
The district filed a request March 20 with the Maine Labor Relations Board to conduct fact finding. Under this system, the teachers association and district will both select someone to serve on a three-member panel with the executive director of the state labor relations board appointing the third member.
That panel will then hold a hearing and eventually issue a report. The report becomes public 30 days after it is provided to the two sides.
Forest said salaries are the focus of the disagreement between the two sides.
One teacher in the district said the board has proposed incentive or merit pay to be part of the package. Pratt said the district is not making such a request.
Marc Ayotte, the labor relations board executive director, said there has been an increase over the past four years in districts and their teachers seeking fact finding after mediation failed to resolve differences. RSU 40 and its teachers have gone through mediation.
In 2008-2009, less than 8 percent of mediation cases went to fact finding. In 2009-2010 that reached 10 percent. In 2010-2011 that rose to 13 percent and in 2011-2012 it jumped to more than 17 percent.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when there are fewer resources, it makes negotiations more difficult,” Ayotte said.