HAMPDEN, Maine — More than a decade after the concept was broached, the RSU 22 board and the Tri-22 Teachers’ Association have reached agreement on a groundbreaking new contract that allows teachers to increase their pay through merit.
“Certainly we’re a frontrunner on this,” Superintendent Rick Lyons said last month. “This is a theme that we’ve brought to the table for many years but this is the first year where it’s come to fruition.
“What a lot of districts have done is they’ve put more emphasis on what I call ‘seat time,’” such as courses and going to conferences, he said. “And through these ‘check off’ things, you can earn supplemental compensation. Ours is based on your performance.
“I’m not aware of a district that has merit in the purest sense, whereby you’re evaluated by your supervisor and based on that evaluation, [he or she] determines if you receive merit [pay] or not,” he said.
Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Warren said recently that while decisions about teachers’ pay are made locally, interest in the merit-based pay concept is building across the state.
“There is a lot of energy around this. Anecdotally, we’d estimate there are several dozen districts with this modernization of their teacher compensation systems underway,” she said. “We’re encouraged to see that list growing as other districts are informed by the work of others already underway.
“Supporting teachers in their professional development and holding them accountable for student outcomes so that there is an effective educator in every classroom is perhaps the single-most important action we can take to ensure student success, and performance-based pay can be a critical component of that,” she said.
The merit pay provisions have been built into RSU 22’s traditional pay scale, which is based on years of teaching experience.
Kelly Bickmore, school board chairwoman, said there are four levels of merit pay — $400, $600, $800 and $1,000 — that once earned, permanently become part of a teacher’s annual salary.
Teachers can earn merit pay by excelling in four areas, namely instructional planning and strategies, classroom environment, professional responsibilities and assessment of student learning, which Lyons noted is a big topic in public education today.
Districtwide, about 165 teachers were eligible for merit pay, Bickmore said.
”We had two that received the $1,000 component,” she said. “Seven received the $800 component and the majority [qualified] for a $400 or a $600 bonus.”
Merit pay, however, isn’t the only change for RSU 22 teachers. The school board and teachers union also agreed to increase starting pay for new hires from $30,650 to $32,000. Pay also was raised for veteran teachers who otherwise would not have received raises, specifically those who reach the “lockout” steps, specifically years 17 through 19 and 21 through 24, and those who have worked for RSU 22 for more than 25 years.
Teachers who have reached the lockout steps will receive an additional $500 this year and an additional $750 next year, Lyons said. Those who have reached the top of the pay scale will receive an additional $1,000 this year and next year, he said.
Teachers union co-presidents Nancy Simpson and Michele Metzler said teachers are pleased to keep the traditional salary scale in place and to see money added to it.
“We’ve agreed that for the remainder of the current contract, teachers can earn a merit bonus based on their evaluation. However, this provision remains controversial due, in part, to the introduction this fall of a new teacher evaluation system,” they said.
“Teachers are concerned that all the details of how merit pay will be assigned under the new system have not yet been determined. That level of uncertainty is having an impact on how teachers view the merit pay initiative,” Simpson and Metzler said.
With regard to health insurance, Lyons and Bickmore said the school board and teachers union negotiated changes to keep that program sustainable.
As it stands, the district pays 100 percent of the cost for teachers’ Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Choice Plus premiums — one of the most costly plans offered by the Maine Education Association — and 72 percent of the cost for dependent coverage.
Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest, however, said RSU 22’s health insurance tab now runs about $2 million a year for all employees, with a $200,000 hike this year.
Next year, the district will fund the less costly Standard Plan, which means higher out-of-pocket costs and co-pays for teachers. The cost sharing breakdown for dependent coverage will change to 70-30, Genest said.